Historical Highlight: Westameron Variety Store
While decluttering the old “Photography by Dean” building downtown, some friends found an old outdoor sign in a dark unlit hallway on the second floor. It looked like an expensive porcelain on steel sign. It had the words “Westameron Variety Store” across it, with the words “Home Owned” in the corners. The folks that found it sent out a couple photos and were asking about where and when the “Westameron Variety Store” had operated.
Our research came up empty, so we decided to ask someone who surely would know. I called Terry Hill, a life-long Cameron resident. He was the third generation owner of the local “Western Auto Associate Store” in Cameron, which had been located in the old building for over 40 years. The information he gave me was at least as interesting as the sign itself.
His Grandfather, George Hill, whom he called “Grandad”, opened the Western Auto Associate Store in the late 1930s. George saw the future of stores like Western Auto and was one of the first 3 investors. Of all the associate stores in the nation, Cameron’s store was store number 3. Terry talked about working there as a teen and remembered when the employees like his father George Hill Jr and George Harris knew every customer by name. When customers walked in they were greeted personally and a clerk was available to discuss, show, demonstrate and sell any of their products. It wasn’t just a warehouse with shelves that folks wandered around in, it was a community resource for household, farm and automotive items.
So what about that sign? I went to see it in person and after inspecting it closely I realized it was a Western Auto sign that had been overpainted with the words “the Cameron Variety Store”. At some point someone had tried to remove the overpainting and got as far as removing the letters “the C” and quit. This exposed the first part of the word “Western” and left the sign saying “Westameron Variety Store”.
In January of 1944 George Hill bought the Cameron Variety store, which was next door to the Western Auto store on 3rd street. He put doorways through the walls to allow customers to easily go between the two stores. The Museum’s photo archive had this photo, circa winter 1945, which has both signs on display side by side. Mrs. Hill ran the variety store until eventually they combined a few years later, into a single larger “Western Auto”
The mystery of the sign had been solved, but even better I got to visit with Terry Hill and several others who remember when local variety stores like Mattinglys, Plain Price, Merifields, Gambles and others, were full service. The Community was glad to shop with friends in a place that reflected the small town atmosphere and the social connection these places gave them. Online shopping and huge warehouse stores have changed the way we shop and the way we socialize with our community. The name mattered less than the fact that these were our trusted friends, so it could have been called anything including the Westameron Variety Store.
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