What’s a dollar worth?
In 1972, according to an ad in The Vidette, a dollar would get you 12 rolls of toilet paper or four heads of iceberg lettuce (or as it was called back then, “lettuce”) from the C&T Super Mini Mart.
Also in 1972, Carol Morrow and her husband, Boyd, bought Elma Variety Store.
“The little ones used to come in and get penny candy,” she said Thursday, Feb. 28, during a chat in her store. The Elma Cross Country team often visited during a run past the store. “Kids would stop at the door and come in and say, ‘I’ll be back for a hundred pieces of penny candy.’ And we’d count it out, and they’d pick it up on their way back.”
Morrow has agreed to sell the building. The store will close before the end of April. A liquidation sale began Friday, March 1, and the walls are flush with bright “All sales final” signs.
Soon the shelves will be empty, but the memories will remain.
As a baby, Morrow’s granddaughter, Chelsie Vogel, would sleep in a basket in the fabric section.
“She’d take a nap right there where we could see her,” Morrow said. “She cut her teeth on fabric.”
Today, Vogel — who is 28, the same age her grandfather was when they bought the store — is looking forward to finishing college after the store closes. Vogel has been helping manage the store.
“Grandma wants to retire,” she said. “Once Grandpa passed away, it kind of took the fun out of it.”
Boyd Morrow died in November 2016 after a long illness.
“This was really his baby,” Carol Morrow said of her husband. “I ran it for the last two years with (Vogel’s) help, which I could not have done it without it.”
On Friday when the sale began, there were about a dozen people waiting to get in the front door and about 50 waiting to get in the back shortly before 9:30 a.m. Customers had come from as far north as Arlington and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, for the sale. Most of them sought fabric. Many of them knew the workers by name.
Inside the store, there are rows of toys, crossword puzzle books, cleaning and automotive supplies, an aisle devoted to scrap-booking, and what has to be the biggest fabric collection in East County.
It’s the kind of store that is constantly changing and packed with fun.
Morrow recalled some of the good times she and her husband had over the years.
“We’ve had squirt-gun fights in the store,” Morrow said. “I’ve chased him up and down the street with squirt guns. We had some fun along the way. He did goofy stuff all the time.
“He always played with all the toys. That was his thing.”
Now she’s looking forward to spending more time with family.
“It’s time for me not to be here,” she said, her eyes turning red. “I’ve got great-grandkids I want to spend time with, and it’s the last thing that my husband and I did. We were married for over 50 years, so this is what we did together.”
The memories are as plentiful as the goods on the shelves.
“He was goofy,” she said, again of her husband. “He would take the plungers when they came in and stick one on his head and walk around the store.”
Elma Variety Store has four full-time workers, one part-time employee and Morrow. The workers’ fates are uncertain. Morrow has until April 30 to empty the building. The liquidation sale will continue until as much as possible is gone.
“Shopping has changed,” Morrow said. “Everybody does it on the internet. (The store) was for sale for two years. … I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve enjoyed it, but I don’t want to be here every day.
“I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the employees. They’re good employees. They’re good people.”
Good people who work hard, especially on Friday morning, when the line of customers waiting to have fabric cut was at least 25 feet long at each of two cutting stations. The line at the register was about the same length.
“It takes a lot of work,” Vogel said. “We go to shows; we order. It’s not like a franchise where you get the same thing in all the time. We have to follow trends and see what needs to come in.
“People love that they can special order things, like a certain kind of yarn. And we see if we can get it. They love that small-town feel. But times are kind of changing.”
Elma Variety Store outgrew its original site, and the Morrows moved it to its current location, 325 W. Main, in 1993. Back then, a dollar could buy you a couple two-by-fours at Levee Lumber.
The fabric section was by far the most busy Friday with people buying backing by the acre. Morrow’s customers were devoted friends. That support from and for the community are part of what she will miss most.
“We used to have one lady who would call on her way to a birthday party who would give us all the information,” she said. “We’d pick it out and wrap it then meet her on the street and hand it to her because she was always running late.”
And the East County community is losing more than a store.
The Morrows would donate money or sell materials at cost — eating the cost of shipping — for local groups, like PTAs and Saturday Basketball, Vogel said.
Morrow recalled helping Slug Festivals and sidewalk sales, the chamber of commerce. Boyd was even a member of the volunteer fire department.
“He would run across the street from the old store” when the alarm when out, Morrow said. “He would run because … the first one there got to drive. …
“I kept thinking, ‘He’s going to get hit one of these days,’ because he would just take off running to get over there so he could drive the truck.”
In addition to spending time with family, Morrow anticipates spending time in the yard and taking cooking classes.
“I might go down to the grade school and see if they need some help,” she said. “I like kids. I like other people’s kids really well.”
Morrow says the new owner is from California. She seemed disappointed that she couldn’t sell the building and business to continue it as a variety store.
“It’s the end of an era. There’s not very many variety stores in the world anymore, which is kind of sad. It’s a nice place to go when you want to pick something up,” she said.
By the end of April, hopefully the variety of goods — like the two-for-a-dollar toilet paper rolls — will be gone and the cleaning out will be near an end.
Eventually, Vogel will stop finding inventory notes written by her grandfather.
The workers will go their separate ways. The customers will find other sources for fabric.
But what will become of the store?
Morrow believes the new owner will put in a Dollar Store.