Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

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LISTENING POST - March 23, 1961
By Sherman R. Lewis

Transcribed by B.J. Shawd, October 26, 2002

If you were a resident of Hancock, Delaware County, New York, some 65 or more years ago, you were probably a customer of the "Shanty Store" operated by Milo Scutt and his son, Clinton. The store was located on the site of the present F.N. Conlon Store, near the old Western Hotel.

The "Shanty Store" was well named, for it was just that. Built largely of slab and unpainted native hemlock boards, it could easily have passed for a frontier store of the pioneer West. Inside was just as unpretentious as the one step-up plain unpainted board floor porch. The low shed-like roof was propped up with several wood posts which made convenient places to hang lanterns, fringe mittens in winter, felt boots and the like. The kerosene lights poorly illuminated the many alleys and dark corners, thus giving to a small boy a feeling of spookiness.

This "general store" - now it probably would be called a department store, carried a great variety of merchandise from barrelled crackers, salt pork, flour, sugar, molasses and even kerosene by the barrel. Besides groceries and other household items, the store carried quite a stock of men's clothing.

Milo Scutt was a natural born store keeper and the business prospered and was continued from the old "Shanty Store" until near the turn of the century when a disastrous fire across the street destroyed the entire Tarbox block from the old Methodist Church to the W.H. Nichols Private Bank and variety store, the fire taking the life of an elderly woman.

The Tarbox block was rebuilt much as it remains today. However, the former Howard & Wheelock Drug Store was moved to the opposite side of the street. The drug store became Wheelocks' Pharmacy and the Shanty Store became a modern general store, the two operating side by side in a new fine brick two-story structure replacing the old buildings on the Shanty Store site.

F.N. Conlon Store
About 1895 a quiet reserved country boy from Downsville, NY, established a grocery business in Hancock. His first store was a narrow section of the present S.N. Wheeler & Sons hardware and plumbing supply store.

This bachelor country store keeper, Francis N. Conlon, exhibited many of the traits of thrift and caution of a Calvin Coolidge. Mr. Conlon had very little capital which he guarded as if it were precious stones. He did an unheard of thing for that period. He paid cash for his merchandise and sold for cash only.

So scrupulously did he adhere to this "selling for cash only" policy that one day when two well respected elderly ladies wished to make a small purchase, but remarked that they had forgotten their purse but would pay the next time they were in, Mr. Conlon explained to them that he could not open a charge account for it was against his policy to charge anything. However, in order to maintain his policy of selling for cash only, he handed them three dollars from his pocket that they might pay cash for their purchase.

You might say that here was a man who had set principles for doing business to which he adhered strictly. In later years he did modify somewhat his for cash only policy.

During this same period of the late 1890's, Hancock High School had for vice principal (in those days called Preceptries) a very fine teacher by the name of Jessie S. Cobb who lived with her widowed mother.

The first "date" of this couple (Jessie Cobb & Mr. Conlon) began by their acting as chaperones for a sleigh riding party of Hancock High School kids in 1898. These kids included my oldest brother, Burt W. Lewis, now 82 and living in Anderson, Indiana, and May Williams who perished in the Fredonia Normal school fire. May Williams was a sister of Willma Williams Kingsbury and the late Harley Williams.

Following the sleigh ride, Burt Lewis and May Williams composed a school kids' poem which started out.---- "On January second in ninety-eight Conlon shared with Jessie a lover's fate; Not one of her students has forgot that Conlon keeps a grocery lot. Nor forget will they in the future time how their merry chat with the bells kept time."

Probably about 1902 F.N. Conlon purchased the new Scutt Store, which had earlier been conducted as the "Shanty Store" and moved from his cramped quarters in the Wheeler building to the new spacious building which also housed Wheelocks' Pharmacy. Electricity had not yet come to Hancock but by this time the better buildings were lighted by gas.

After completing a post graduate course following grasduation in 1905, in the latter part of 1906 I started clerking in the F.N. Conlon Store and continued in this position during part of 1907. Thus it was my privilege to become well acquainted with both Mr. and Mrs. Conlon, for as part of my pay and for my own convenience, I had my supper in their home, dining with Mrs. Conlon and their two young children, Helen and Emerson, while Mr. Conlon tended store. Then Mr. Conlon went home to supper while I tended store until Mr. Conlon's return. The store was kept open until 8 pm every night except Saturday and then it remained open until 10 pm. We both remained on duty until closing time. No 40-hour week for either of us. This was the custom of that period.

Mr. and Mrs. Conlon were both refined, intelligent, considerate, honest and industrious. The friendship thus started grew until their death.

When I clerked in the Conlon Store, there were still many items of men's clothing such as overcoats, acquired with the stock of the Shanty Store days. One day when I was alone in the store, an Italian who worked on the O&W Railroad came in and wanted an overcoat that hung in the bargain section. The coat was marked $8.00 but he haggled about the price and offered $6.00. Convinced that he might not pay $8.00, I let him have the coat for six. When Mr. Conlon returned, I told him about the sale. He was glad to have the coat gone at any price. But, he told me never again to cut the price first named to an Italian, for if you did you could never again sell them anything until you cut the named price. (This is probably true of many other people.)

Well do I remember another occasion when a salesman offered a large lot of slightly under par cookies that could be sold at a good profit for a cut rate. Mr. Conlon ordered the man out of the store. He proceeded to another store in town, (long since out of business), where the cookies were purchased and resold at a cut rate. Another salesman tried to sell Mr. Conlon baskets that would give short measure by having built-in false bottoms. The offer was indignantly spurned.

Another odd experience had to do with a young lady about 25 from the Brooklyn Side. She came in one rainy evening and wanted a pair of rubbers. A few of the oldsters may recall that 55 to 60 years ago no lady wore large sized shoes. They might run from 3 to 5, but a larger size was unthinkable. This lady thought she wanted about 4 or possibly size 5. So I started trying on rubbers. She couldn't get her toe in size 4. She tried 5, still far too small. Finally, without saying anything, I had her try on seven and one half. It was a perfect fit, and for a moment she was happy. Then she asked me the size and I foolishly told her the exact size. Immediately she blushed and asserting that the rubber was much too large, removed it from her foot and stormed out of the store. The women seem to be more honest about the size of their feet today. Aside from the high pin-pointed heels of today, I was about to conclude that the women are becoming more sensible.

When I clerked in the Conlon Store, Mr. Conlon was the Democratic Town Clerk for the Town of Hancock. All the town records were kept in the store office just as they were here in Washingtonville in the store office of the late Republican Town Clerk, E.J. McLaughlin for the Town of Blooming Grove.

Mr. Conlon was never of robust health. As the years passed, he found handling the heavier grocery items such as potatoes, flour and case goods taxed his waning strength. Gradually the grocery department was dropped and the dry goods and children and ladies wear departments were stressed. In his declining years, Mr. Conlon enjoyed sitting at his desk watching his wife and daughter carry on the store. Since Mrs. Conlon's passing, Helen continues to successfully operate the F.N. Conlon Store.

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