by Lana Smith Wilson
With assistance from Jeannie Begley Leonard
Editor’s note: The Spring 2015 issue of the Alumni ElHiMo, the El Dorado Springs R-II High Alumni Newsletter, carried this article about the now recently burned down Little Store. After the fire destroyed The Little Store last Monday morning, Feb. 6, Lana had just dropped off her article at my request when Sharron Knutson, editor of the Alumni ElHiMo, called Kimball asking if she could use Davis’ photo of the fire. Of course she can, we just want to use Lana and Jeannie’s story about The Little Store.
When you hear the words, “The Little Store,” what comes to your mind? No doubt if you were a student at EHS between 1944 and 1969, you have memories of The Little Store. Conservatively speaking, approximately 163,000 kids were served in those 25 years and most likely you were one of them. Few remember when there wasn’t a Little Store so why question how it all came to be? But there is an interesting story behind this building that is still fresh in most of our minds.
There was an “eating establishment” at that location when the property was owned by Mr. and Mrs. D. R. Goyette. In February 1944, they sold the building along with contents that included booths, counters, stools, glasses, trays, dinner plates, etc. to Howard and Edith Begley. The front of the building housed the business portion and the back rooms became the kitchen and living areas for the Begleys. After that, they added rooms as their children were born – Jeannie in 1945 and Jim in 1949. They added two apartments upstairs and remodeled part of the first floor for a third apartment. At one time, Kay Phllips, (now Fogler) operated a beauty salon in this first floor apartment.
Howard, an auto mechanic by trade, built his garage behind The Little Store and worked there until his health no longer allowed. The only connection he had with The Little Store was the mechanical maintenance.
Edith had only an eighth grade education but was a shrewd businesswoman. She evaluated her skills along with her opportunities wisely in order to make the best financial decisions. And this brought about the purchase of The Little Store. They wanted it as a retirement plan and to ensure the future for themselves and their children as they became older.
As WWII was still going on and rationing was a factor, they ground their own hamburger and handmade many of the sweets sold at the store including Edith’s signature angel food cake.
In the early 50s, they added a Dairy Queen and possibly sold the first soft serve ice cream in town. Around this time, they installed air conditioning.
Edith was quoted, “If I am going to work 20 hours a day, I might as well be cool.”
The hours were changed from not just school days to year round. The downside of all this was that customers would come in the evening to “cool off” and have ice cream, but stay until midnight.
Daughter, Jeannie Begley Leonard, recalls, “I don’t know where the name ‘The Little Store’ came from. Possibly the name was already there. Looking back, I realize how very unusual it was to grow up in a house where you walked through the kitchen door and had access to a soda fountain, candy case and ice cream machine. I’m sure that had something to do with my weight gain in Jr. High.”
“My entire childhood was based on the store schedule. Fresh doughnuts and pastries were delivered between 7 and 8 a.m. The store opened at 8:00 with many students grabbing something for breakfast before school.”
“Lunch varied from 30 minutes to an hour. Everyone knew the ‘system’ – one line for the fountain, one for the food and another for the candy case. The store was open until after school snacks and drink purchases had been made and then the job of cleaning for the next day began. The entire floor was hand mopped each day after everything else was cleaned.”
“I thought I was the most abused student in ElDo because I had to work as cashier during the lunch hour. My brother, Jim, served the drinks as soon as he was old enough.”
Employees consisted of friends and other students. Gladys Boswell (Sharon Schwalm’s mother) handled all food prep tasks but her main job was frying those great hamburgers during the lunch hour. She was the calm in the middle of the noisy storm. She was great. My parents helped several of their student employees with their education after high school.”
“The Little Store also sold school supplies such as notebook paper, pencil and pens at the candy counter.”
“Mom loved the noise and the daily contact. She talked to them about the importance of getting a good education so they would not have to work like she did with a mop and bucket every day.”
“Of course, with such a small space and with so many kids, an occasional fight would occur. Mom was a tough bouncer. She would separate them and most of the time they were banned for several days as the ultimate punishment.”
“In 1969, when the school board voted for a closed lunch hour, Mom had to make a decision. Her first instinct was to fight the policy, legally if necessary, and keep the business open. She truly enjoyed the daily interaction with the kids and never got over the loss. She considered operating The Little Store one of her greatest accomplishments. However, Dad’s health was declining and through the years they had purchased rental properties and a mobile home park along with mobile home sales, so she decided to close The Little Store and concentrate on those.”