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Reflections with Sammy Way: Neighborhood groceries were once common in Sumter

By SAMMY WAY Archivist and historian
Posted 1/18/20

Reflections remembers the local grocery store and how this commercial icon played a key role in the daily life of most Sumterites. These institutions could be found on practically every corner of Sumter prior to the arrival of the large chain …

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Reflections with Sammy Way: Neighborhood groceries were once common in Sumter

Posted

Reflections remembers the local grocery store and how this commercial icon played a key role in the daily life of most Sumterites. These institutions could be found on practically every corner of Sumter prior to the arrival of the large chain stores.

Wikipedia Encyclopedia identifies the grocery store as "beginning in the 14th century, with a grocer (or purveyor) being a dealer in comestible (edible) dry goods including spices, peppers, sugar and (later) cocoa, tea and coffee. Because these items were often bought in bulk, they were named after the French word for wholesaler, or grossier. This term in turn is derived from a medieval Latin term, from which comes the word gross (meaning a quality of 12 dozen or 144). The information and photos used to produce this article were taken from The Sumter Item archives.

One of the more remembered local groceries, located in downtown Sumter, was operated by H. J. Commins. An article published by The Sumter Daily Item relates a testimony given by a local citizen. He said, "I called Commins Grocery for a can of salmon for breakfast, and before I got back to the kitchen there was the delivery boy with the salmon!" Such remarks as this by Sumter housewives were frequently heard shortly after Feb. 22, 1926, when H. J. Commins opened his grocery at 12 W. Liberty St.

"Prompt service was made a specialty; Mr. Commins recalls a 'run-of-the-mill' grocery store was not what was needed by Sumter customers in 1926. There was a scarcity of fresh vegetables, so this new store made a point of importing an abundance of garden-fresh vegetables including cabbages, collards, peas, string beans, sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes and cucumbers from the produce farms located near the coast of South Carolina."

In many instances, the local grocer would operate a preparation room where butchers would cut and prepare choice cuts of beef and poultry.

Some weeks the Commins store would dress and sell 56 chickens and quantities of turkeys and ducks. The equipment used was kept spotless, especially those used by the butchers, and "only the most sanitary methods were used."

The majority of customers became loyal patrons of their local grocer. The establishment often served as a gathering place where young children could purchase and sample the latest sodas along with myriad candies and other novelties.

Shopping at these stores was viewed as an event, not simply a necessity for Sumter's homemakers.

Many of the establishments introduced home delivery and would complete shopping lists for customers, making these stores an integral part of the homes of many Sumterites.