Visitors to the Freeman Store often comment that they feel as if they have “stepped back in time” or found themselves in “another era,” with the wood floors, wood and glass display cabinets, merchandise displayed on open wood shelving, and goods-for-sale nearby to museum displays featuring bolts of cloth, millinery and crockery. On a wintery day, the wood stove with a rocker and checkerboard close by gives a feeling of warmth and coziness, while the vintage chest Coke cooler is a welcome sight during warm summer afternoons. One of several general stores located in Vienna before the days of chains and “big boxes,” the Freeman Store remains a slice of living history.
Using the Freeman Store as backdrop, HVI has a new exhibit, “The History of the Country Store,” open now during Store hours (Wednesday thru Sunday, 12 noon to 4 pm). On entering the store, visitors will immediately see that the exhibit has made use of the store itself for staging and presenting artifacts, examples of merchandise which would have been offered in bygone days. Continuing on through the second floor exhibit rooms are displays and explanatory materials giving a full picture of the role of the country store, including general mercantile (pots and pans, horse collars and school books), voting precinct, dry goods (clothing and shoes for the whole family), feed, grain and seeds, all manner of hardware from farm implements to hand tools and nails, and in many cases (including the Freeman Store) a post office and general gathering place. The general store served as a grocery, including canned goods, eggs, fresh meat, and seasonal local produce. Purchases could be made by cash, a credit “tab,” or by barter, a frequent method of purchase for local farmers, who would bring in garden produce or dairy products in exchange for commodities such as sugar, salt or other store merchandise. Health concerns were addressed as well, with “medicines” guaranteed to cure everything from headache to baldness, toothaches to forgetfulness.