This lineup of Henry L. Patrick Store workers was taken in the mid twentieth century [unfortunately, no date on picture] in front of the building on Hopedale Street, which has been torn down and the site is now a parking lot.The granite horse-watering trough is now located further down Hopedale Street, alongside the high school parking lot. From left, Julia Lahive, Marie Dalrymple, Louise King, Herbert Ward, Irene Ferguson, John Lahive, Jessie Gover, Arthur Fulton, Charles Pederzoli, Martha Conroy, Frank Tenney, unidentified, Frank Connors, next two unidentified, John Galloway, James O’Neil, unidentified, Allen Washburn, Horace Norcross and Ernest Nason.

Hopedale’s Old Style Country Store

Does Half Million Dollar Business Annually!

No Cracker Barrel But Patrick’s Has About Everything Else, B’Gosh!

By Grace Deschamps

You can walk into H.L. Patrick’s store in Hopedale and step right into another century. You can walk down the center of this emporium and, like the housewives who shopped there at the close of the Civil War, buy a yard of cloth or a pound of cheese, a cotton house dress or a dozen eggs.

For here in Worcester County is one of the country’s most interesting surviving examples of that historic American institution – the country store. It’s no museum piece either, but a lusty enterprise that serves, in fair weather or foul, the inhabitants of half a dozen Worcester County towns.

The cracker barrel, to be sure, is missing because today’s crackers come in packages, but otherwise the Twentieth Century has done little to change this extraordinary store which does nearly half a million dollars’ worth of business yearly!

As might be expected, there are a number of modern touches: Along with the yard goods and cheese, you can buy frosted vegetables or avocado pears. In place of oatmeal and corn meal, once sold from the bin, you’ll find the present-day assortment of packaged cereals. You can buy varieties of produce and fruit that Mr. Patrick’s old-time customers never saw, trucked in from faraway points.

You can get all these and many items, besides – like seed for your garden, grain for your horse, new-fangled “didies” for the baby and cough syrup for your medicine closet. For Patrick’s was and still is a “general” store. Today, as 75 years ago, it offers to people living far from the grocery stores, department stores and drug stores of a metropolis, something like the combined services of all three.

Retaining the vigor and much of the color of its heyday – when the American country store was a clearing house for goods, services, sociability and political opinions – the Hopedale store continues to prosper because it is still dispensing so many of the oldtime things people still want today: neighborliness, reputable merchandise and those minor services that add up to so much good will for the business.

It is a matter of pride, for example, to Frank Hersey, store treasurer, that delivery was made of every order taken during the record blizzard of last February.

“We like to have people believe that we will do our best for them,” Mr. Hersey emphasized. “That’s why we try to get through a storm even if we have to shovel.”

It was back in the 1870s that Henry L. Patrick, who founded the store and was its presiding genius for nearly 60 years, put into practice those personal services that made his country store a popular institution.  [Patrick’s was established in 1869.]

When a Hopedale farmer or woodsman wanted a pair of boots  “from the city” – or a housewife, a stove – or a village belle, a ribbon for her hair – it was Mr. Patrick who obtained these items for them during his frequent trips by horse and wagon to Boston.

Henry Patrick would make his trips to Boston at night, usually, in order to lose no time from his business. While his knowing team of horses kept to the familiar road, Henry dozed or slept outright after his long day’s work. It was more than 30 miles to Boston and the journey took all night.

Market day for him began early. He was out on the road by dawn, delivering goods to his customers and, in summer, refilling his wagon with eggs, blueberries, and garden truck.  By nightfall, with fresh horses, he was ready to set out for Boston where he would dispose of his produce and buy “staples” for his store – tea, coffee, sugar, spices and similar items. Grain, flour and the heavier commodities were shipped to Hopedale by freight.

Paper bags were unheard of, and if you bought five pounds of sugar, a wedge of cheese or a pound of tea, you carried home your purchase wrapped in a piece of paper twisted into the shape of a cornucopia.

“Spill it? Certainly not,” Mr. Hersey asserted. “You’d be surprised how easily you can carry something in paper if it’s twisted right! You can manage five pounds of sugar easily that way! Of course the top of the cornucopia would be open; you’d have to be careful not to stub your toe!”  Those earlier customers brought their own jugs to the store for molasses, which came in a hogshead. Spices were sold in bulk – weighed first, then wrapped in small twists of paper. Henry Patrick used to buy his spices in Boston where the clipper ships brought them from the Far East, around the Horn. His spice containers were small, round, wooden boxes, which held cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace and kindred items.

When he “peddled” from farm to farm, as he did at the start of his retailing career, he weighed out his spices from these small wooden tubs, shielding his scales all the while from the wind so the precious ounces would not blow away.

 The country storekeeper was “fussy” about his molasses, and about his teas, too, recalls Mr. Hersey, who in his young manhood, was a clerk for the late proprietor.

“He’d have classes on Saturday nights for all the help,” Mr. Hersey said. “He might make tea, for example, and we’d sample four or five different kinds, to find the best brand

.”He’d show us how to judge molasses, too. He’d pour out a small quantity on a piece of white paper, then hold the paper up so the molasses could drip down. If there were little particles in it, he’d say, ‘There! See that? That’s not the best molasses!'”

“Then he’d pour out a better grade and show us how the best molasses was golden brown and free from all sediments. He really wanted to sell good grades of merchandise and went to great pains to get for his customers the best he could find.

“He put into his business an enormous enthusiasm. Buying and selling goods was a wonderful game to him. He was shrewd, yet friendly. His employees liked him.

 “He frequently consulted them concerning store policies and distributed many substantial bonuses. I know he dispensed more than $100,000. I have heard him sharply reprimand a store manager for speaking harshly to an errand boy.”

This extraordinary country store which has survived the motor age, depressions, chain stores and the revolutionary developments of modern retailing, began its existence, according to Mr. Hersey, as a “horse and wagon proposition.” The founder of the business, back in the 1860s, set out with horse and wagon to peddle goods from farm to farm.

 Patrick had got his ideas of retailing from peddling notions and jewelry in the farming country of the Middle West. From isolated families, he had discerned the business possibilities for a friendly, itinerant peddler who could bring news, scraps of gossip and agreeable conversation to farm women cut off, in large measure, from contact with the outside world. Born in Westboro, he had gone out west to seek his fortune. Returning to New England, he was to find it in Hopedale.

If  “Patrick’s – the Family Store,” prospered from the first, one reason was the unflagging energy of its proprietor. When he was not keeping store or marketing in Boston, he was scouring the countryside for produce or goods salable in the store or in the Boston market. Soon he had several clerks and a number of delivery wagons. Motor trucks, in 1920, supplanted the wagons

   If you approach one of the older make clerks in the store and ask him for the manager, he’ll laugh and say, “We all are!” Mr. Hersey, however, a veteran of more than 30 years service, is responsible for much of the store’s policy. But all the older employees own stock in it; the late proprietor believed in employee-participation in ownership and years ago invited them to purchase company stock.

Since Henry Patrick’s death in 1929, the business has been run by a board of directors. John Lahive, a member of the personnel for 39 years, is now president of the corporation.

In peacetime, the Patrick employees number around 44, but war has reduced this total to 41. Delivery men no longer take orders, but if you climb to the second story of the antiquated building which the store owns and occupies, you’ll find an office in which five telephone operators are kept busy taking down orders from residents of Hopedale and nearby towns.

 Five minutes in that telephone office might nearly convince you that you were in the personal service department of a metropolitan department store – except that in the ordinary department store, a customer would not be able to order groceries.

In common with other retail grocery stores, Patrick’s is experiencing wartime difficulties in keeping its meat department stocked.

  “We keep a man in the markets all week long buying meats – or trying to!” Mr. Hersey declared. “He goes every day to Boston, Worcester or Framingham.”  

On the top shelf of the store’s office – a typical country store office, by the way, without any concessions, in the way of appointments, to present-day “atmosphere” – are more than three score thick ledgers. Most of them contain the hand-written entries of the late proprietor, covering charge transactions over a period of nearly 60 years.

In the earliest ledgers are entries like: “5 lbs. Cheese, 3 lbs. corn meal, 1 gal. Kerosene, 5 lbs. baking soda.” On the other side of the ledger appear those items the farmer had brought in for exchange – “3 bushels potatoes, 3 doz. eggs.”

“That farmer pretty well paid for his order with his potatoes and eggs,” Mr. Hersey observed.

 “There are two things that will never lose their appeal in America,” he added, looking up from that bookkeeping of the ’60s. “Those are credit and service.

“People who have good credit and are able to charge things find it gives them a feeling of responsibility. Too, it enables them to buy goods without carrying money on their person.

“As for service, Americans, particularly, appreciate it. Service from your dealer means that you get quality goods and things like telephone service and delivery. The woman who lightens her housework with a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine and an electric mixer, does so because it saves her precious time. For the same reason she orders merchandise over the telephone. It saves her time.

“There will always be people who find it expedient to buy time. And there will always be those people who are willing to pay just a little bit more to get quality. That’s one reason why we can do business so successfully.”

How long a period of credit does Patrick’s allow its customers?

“Anywhere from 36 hours to from two to three months, depending on the customers,” the store treasurer replied.

 In lean times, or in cases where a customer has suffered temporary financial difficulties, the store has made a point of dealing leniently with its clients, he continued.

Despite the strong and persistent appeal of the charge account, an increasing volume of business today is derived from the cash-and-carry customer, Mr. Hersey pointed out. And to supply this trade, Patrick’s operates a smaller cash-and-carry store two blocks down from its main store. [That would be the corner store, located where Stone’s Furniture is now.] The latter store is believed to be one of the first strictly cash-and-carry experiments in New England and employees of Patrick’s point to it as further evidence of the foresight of their late president.

And Patrick’s claims another “first.” The store was one of the first retail grocery establishments in New England to employ women clerks.

Deliveries in wartime are made every other day. Goods are delivered in Hopedale, Mendon, Grafton, Upton, Milford and as far away as Braggville. And as in the old days, the delivery man frequently relays news of weather and road conditions, local events and town politics.

Hopedale had not been incorporated a town when in 1869 Henry Patrick opened up his store. His early customers were those pioneer men and women who had been members of Hopedale’s historic Christian community until its dissolution in 1856.

The community, one of America’s better known communal experiments, enjoyed a large measure of success and was of sufficient importance to have been mentioned in the writings of the Russian novelist and sociologist, Count Tolstoi.

Most of those early patrons of Patrick’s store must have been reliable customers for virtually the entire population belonged to the Christian Associates, whose members were pledged to the most exemplary conduct. And the history of the town says that “never a pauper, never a criminal, never a thriftless wretch came from the Hopedale Community to be taken care of by the civil government.”

This vivid link between the present and South Worcester County’s pioneer past – Patrick’s General Store – has by no means outlived its usefulness. Operating on the same principles as it did 75 years ago, it continues to furnish rural dwellers with the goods and services they want. And just for good measure, it throws in the personal touch – which pays off abundantly.

In 1869, you could buy at this rambling country store five pounds of baking soda or a harness for your horse. Today you can buy frosted vegetables and motor oil for your car.

And after the war, if you-re looking for dehydrated mashed potatoes or a new fan belt for your helicopter – in all probability you’ll be able to buy them at Patrick’s.

Neither the date nor the name of the newspaper this article was printed in can be seen on the clipping, but the context indicates that it was during World War II and articles on the other side of the page suggest that the paper was probably the Worcester Telegram or Gazette.

While this article mentions Henry Patrick being born in Westboro and going out west to seek his fortune, before starting his business in Hopedale, he did live at least part of his early life here. His father, Delano Patrick, was a member of the Hopedale Community and early maps show that he owned quite a bit of land in town. In Hopedale Reminiscences, Imogene Mascroft recalls, “The store of H.L. Patrick, on the Milford road, was not then built. Speaking of that store reminds me of the early ambitions of the proprietor. A favorite morning exercise at the opening of school was to express in a few words our dreams of future greatness and in what large place in life we hoped to fill. Henry’s taste for mercantile pursuits had probably not developed, for he then expected to become a circus rider.”

The picture below shows Patrick’s Corner Store on Route 16 at Hopedale Street, where Stone’s Furniture is now (2014) located.                

Patrick's in 1919. Watering trough is now at the corner of Hopedale and Adin streets.

For more, including when the store was purchased by Rico Calarese, and when his new store replaced the original one, click here.

  Patrick’s by Peter Hackett           Leola Sterns’s Memories of Patrick’s   

   Now and Then – Patrick’s Corner Store  

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