Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine
Still a store
The Corner Market in
Mary's Home turns 100

by Jim McCarty

In 1906 Henry Sanning built this store in Mary’s Home. One hundred years later, the store still retains its character with its original metal “boomtown” facade and interior furnishings.

Mary’s Home is one of those places in Missouri you aren’t likely to find on your own. No sign points the way off Highway 54 to the little town located between the state capital and Lake of the Ozarks. If you don’t know someone who lives here, there’s no good reason to stop.

This isolation is the main reason The Corner Market, the town’s lone store, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2006. While most country stores have gone the way of the steam train, The Corner Market still meets the needs of a loyal following who buy milk, bread, beer and tobacco products or stop by for lunch.

“You would never be passing it,” says Sandra Millard, who, along with husband Ted, brought the store back from the brink eight years ago. “You’d have to be coming here to find it.”

The Millards sold a travel agency in Jefferson City and invested their money in The Corner Market eight years ago. While the store was in excellent shape considering its age, it needed a lot of attention.

Current owner Sandra Millard brought the store back from the brink and invested much time and money into its loving restoration. The store still carries many of the items it would have when it was built but no longer takes rabbit furs as barter.

The store was slowly dying. Townspeople feared it would close. But Sandra had always dreamed of owning a country store.

Her father and grandfather ran stores in Eugene and Hickory Hill, where she grew up. Her fondest memories are of the stories her grandfather told of his days as a storekeeper.

That was during the Depression. “People were starving,” Sandra says. “They had no money. He would let them take cornmeal and flour, sugar and things so they would at least have something. They couldn’t, of course, pay him. When he got married Grandpa let them work off their debt on his house and I was born and raised there.”

The store in Mary’s Home, named in honor of the mother of Jesus, operated the same way. Cash-strapped customers bartered for their needs, perhaps trading live chickens for coffee or rabbit furs for sugar. One man, who delivered bread to the store 50 years ago, told Sandra he could only speak German to the store’s owners.

The store is unique in its pressed tin interior and exterior. Visitors stare in awe at the sight of its impressive façade, known as a “boomtown” front. The metal sides are designed to look like stone blocks. Large front windows warm the interior in the winter while a canvas awning keeps out the heat in the summer.

Long before Sandra arrives in the morning a group of men known as the Breakfast Club opens the store for her and gets the coffee pot going.

Inside all of the original furnishings remain in place, from the long glass-topped counters to the yellow pine shelves. “It’s so unique because it’s so original,” Sandra says. “It’s never been anything else and it’s never been closed.”

A broad set of steps split to take customers to the U-shaped mezzanine. From here they can get a close look at the beautiful, ornate pressed tinwork with fleur-de-lis patterns.

When the Millards bought the store, years of neglect and smoke from the wood stove made it almost impossible to see the ceiling details. Clutter needed to be cleared away and the mechanical systems replaced.

Undaunted, they hired a crew of painters to come in and work all night on the ceiling. “Before you couldn’t see any of the design,” Sandra says of the ceiling. “It just sprang back to life. It amazed me and everyone else.”

While the building got a facelift, the Millards were careful to leave anything that hinted at its past. The old knob-and-tube wiring installed when electricity came to Mary’s Home in the 1930s can still be seen nailed to the outside of the walls. Even burners from the earlier gas lighting remain and are another unique feature.

While the store carries a wide variety of items, most customers come in for the just a few items. Lettering on the store front window announces some of the most popular items.

An acetylene generator in the basement made gas when water dripped on carbide placed inside. Instructions for operating the dangerous contraption can still be found posted on one of the wooden beams.

Another remnant of the old store is the kerosene siphon. The storekeeper dialed in how much kerosene the customer wanted and the siphon delivered just the right amount into the customer’s jug.

The pressed tin and original furnishings are interesting enough. But Sandra added to the effect with tasteful antiques she found, including an old hand crank wall phone and historic photographs of the town. Three deer heads with impressive racks and a full body mountain lion mount are conversation pieces.

She’s cleared shelf space with the idea of renting booths to craft and antique dealers, which is slowly taking off. The store also does a good trade in work clothes, selling Key, Polar King and Wolf Mountain brands.

If the walls could talk they would tell a fascinating tale. The store was built in 1906 by Henry Sanning, a garage owner from nearby Eugene. When it opened it was the second store on the site and competed with an older general mercantile located across the street.

Sanning built three more stores in Eugene, St. Elizabeth and St. Thomas. All four buildings are still standing, but only the one in Mary’s Home still serves its original purpose. “This was the smallest and most insignificant one,” Sandra says.

The store would be known by the various families that ran it until 1983, when Ray and Betty Kliethermes bought it and renamed it The Corner Market.

A broad set of steps split to take customers to the U-shaped mezzanine. From here they can get a close look at the beautiful, ornate pressed tinwork with fleur-de-lis patterns.

Former residents who return to Mary’s Home for the annual Our Lady of the Snows parish picnic or stop in for lunch tell Sandra the store looks the same as it always did. It still serves as a center for community news as much as a place to get convenience items.

Long before Sandra arrives in the morning a group of men known as the Breakfast Club opens the store for her and gets the coffee pot going. Then they settle in to tell tall tales and maybe even eat some breakfast. There’s a closeness in this little community that the historic store helps to foster.

“They say that the little towns like this, when the store goes, the town goes,” Sandra says. “There’s always got to be one store that’s holding it together. When that goes it will never be the same.”

To reach The Corner Market, take Highway 54 to the Highway 17 exit, then go east to State Route H. The store is 3 miles north on H. It is open every day except Monday. For more information, call (573) 498-6326.

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