Mott’s General Store, Main Street, Lyn

The Credit Ledger from

Blake E. Mott’s General Store, Lyn, Ontario

(Author unknown) (Note: the photo is not of Mott’s Store, unfortunately no photos exist of his store)

Blake Mott and his wife Edith were the proprietors of a General Store in Lyn from about 1921 to 1931. Blake rented the ground floor of the building owned by the International Order of Oddfellows on the main street of Lyn, right next to the present museum.

This ‘Credit Ledger’ covers the time period of March 17th, 1925 to May 26th, 193. On the surface this Ledger records goods and services purchased on credit, but in fact it is a document depicting a social and economic way of life in that era. The 475 pages of purchases tell far more than what the customers bought; it relates how rural folk lived and managed to economically survive in increasingly difficult times. Interest centres not so much on what they bought and the prices, but on how they paid their bills, for that information indicated their financial fluidity and resourcefulness.

The decade of 1920 to 1930 has frequently been referred to as “The Roaring Twenties”, which immediately conjures up images of gay ‘Flappers’ and ‘Great Gatsby’ type figures of enormous wealth and high social standing, living the good life. Well, for the wealthy that might have been true but for the vast majority, especially the working class, which include rural folk, typically those who lived in the Lyn area, life in that decade was one of increasing hardship. There was a boom in the immediate post WW 1 period but as the decade wore on the good times became economically more difficult. The working class experienced ten years of declining income while the wealthy hardly noticed it at all, until the stock market crash of 1929, which caused chaos amongst the upper income group. The Market crash had a domino effect with disproportionate repercussions on the already cash strapped lower income group- which included most of the citizens of Lyn.

The era of the village store is all but gone; a few such stores still exist in outlying communities, but they have a finite life and their imminent demise is dependent upon the economics of transportation. It might be that the reader has a vague idea of what a general store is, and so to clarify, a brief description is in order. Where there was an established community, more likely than not remote, and mobility was restricted, or transportation was expensive, there arose a need for a store where goods, that could not be conveniently or economically produced locally, could be purchased to meet life’s needs. Thus emerged the general store. It was a phenomena that existed from time immemorial to mid 20th century. It was a shop where a vast selection of goods were available, not much variety perhaps, but the key factor was ‘availability’. It was the fore runner to today’s department store complex. The general store also served as a community hub with essential social services and communications being part of its stock in trade.. This tangible ‘other product’ illustrates that ‘Man does not live by bread alone’. Mott’s Store was probably typical of the era in which it existed with a mind boggling inventory roughly divided into ‘departments’ within a small shop. The Ledger records some, but by no means all, of his stock (refer to later pages for a list of items sold). For the average farm wife, living in relative isolation, Mott’s emporium might have seemed to be a material oasis from another planet.

People bought on credit for numerous reasons and not simply because they were short of money; they had small amounts of money but it might not have been available at any given time. Lyn was essentially a farming community where the ‘mill cheque’ was the major source of income and the cheques were issued by the milk factory once per month, meaning that there was no constant flow of money in the community. Like milk, it came in spurts, but at thirty day intervals. People lived from milk cheque to milk cheque, doing as best they could between times. Mott was probably the last link in the local financial chain.

A credit account with Mott was a matter of convenience for some folk who had other mid month priorities for their ready cash. Those people who did not have a steady income would have appreciated the easy credit on food until the next casual job came along. Mott did not charge interest on his accounts, which was the norm for general stores trying to attract and hold customers in a competitive market place. This mutual rust and faith worked well for the most part, with few failing to pay their bills. Payments to him were frequently of small amounts with 10 and 20 cents being common, although most paid off a goodly portion of their account, but rarely the whole lot. They were not able to get ahead of the game, they were in perpetual debt. Many of those in the Ledger obviously were not making a living wage. There is no evidence of how many of Mott’s customers paid in cash for this book is a Credit Ledger.

Mott provided several services aside from provender. He ran a type of taxi service; he also sub-contracted deliveries of heavier items to a truck owner; he was a money lender; he owned a telephone and charged for conveying messages (10¢ each!); he was a middle mn or ‘agent’ for watch repairs; he was a caterer for the Masons; he accepted, in lieu of cash payment on credit accounts, all manner of farm produce (refer to list on a later page), and in addition to all that he was the distributor of “Relief” to those too poor to survive without Township Assistance. In many ways Mott was an extraordinary businessman; astute, flexible, alert to opportunities, adaptable to change, multi-skilled, having an agile mind and being competent in risk assessment. He was an admirable performance given the difficult financial times in which he operated.

Mott became a significant person in the community because he provided so many services. This was probably Mott’s way of staying ahead of the competition, there were four other general stores in the village at that time and the struggle for survival was probably keen. In addition to those four competing stores there was a number of very small stores sprinkled about the countryside; one was run from the converted front parlour of a private house. The number of general stores in Lyn was justified because customers were drawn from approximately a ten mile radius. One of Mott’s customers habitually walked down Halleck’s Road from his house on Highway 2. It is well to bear in mind that Lyn rivalled Brockville for economic dominance at one time.

The Ledger records many times Mott billing church ministers, who did not own a car, for taxi services to funerals or Sunday church services in the distant charges of their respective parishes. A normal day labour rate was about $2.00 was in effect at the time and Mott charged between $2.00 and $2.50 for most trips, which was quite expensive.

Lester Ladd was the owner of a truck and he carried bread and other products for Mott as a sub contractor.

As a money lender Mott was limited. He lent amounts from 20¢ to $100. and charged 7% interest. The normal interest rate at that time was about 4%, but it seems that Mott might have been the ‘lender of last resort’ and hence the extra 3% for the higher risk. He did not do it often but he did provide a financial service, be it ever so humble, for a community that had few alternatives.

The Ledger records many instances when Mott supplied coffee and snacks to the Masons (referred to in the ledger as A.F.& A.M.- and acronym for the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons) when they held their meetings in the rooms above the present day library in Lyn. He contracted to fill the il lamps, clean the meeting rooms, set fires in the winter, wash dishes, provide milk, butter, bread, cookies, fruit cakes and salmon with charges ranging from $4.65 t0 $8.15. Actually it was a local lady defraying her credit account who did the work, and Mott who supplied the goods and took responsibility for the service.

Prior to entering the grocery business Mott was a farmer and he retained ownership of the farm after he opened the store. The ledger records, in 1928, rent of $4.00 per month for the farm house being collected by Eli Mott, a distant relative. Eli must have vacated the house and another tenant moved in for in the back of the ledger a hand written note dated February 24th, 1932, giving two months notice of eviction to the new tenant (name withheld). The ownership of this farm was convenient for Mott because it was a place where customers could ‘trade’ day labour and farm supplies to reduce their credit amount at the store. All parties were happy; no cash changed hands, the credit account decreased and Mott had his farm in better order. Mott might have sold some farm produce to other farmers rather than use it himself. He did purchase a lot of hay and it probably was used for his own cattle. In 1927 Mott sold ‘a year’s pasture for two colts’ to one of his customers for $14.00, a Mr. M.Fodey.

Mott also ‘traded’ with suppliers. The Ledger relates that he exchanged the cost of automobile repairs ($70.33) for a grocery credit of the same amount, with the garage owner, G.R.Stewart. There is also an entry telling that Dr. G.W.Brown was credited $5.00, which was his grocery bill, for inoculating Mott’s daughters four times. Miss Addie McLean, and artist and music teacher, was credited 50¢ for music lessons for Mott’s daughters.

There are occasional entries where people, other than the account owner, paid some amount off an account. An assumption is being made that the account owner was owed money and an indirect payment was made. Two entries note that payments were ‘lent’ money, i.e. money was lent to the debtor but paid directly to Mott, thus relieving Mott of some of the debt.

Hard economic times fostered a system of ‘Relief to the Poor’, ‘Dole, or ‘welfare”. The Ledger shows that The Township of Elizabethtown paid for bread to be distributed by Mott to designated customers. There is no record of who the recipients were (preservation of the individual’s dignity, Mott was sensitive) but there is a record of how much bread was distributed, pages of it. Later on in the decade, as things got worse, bread was supplemented by other basic necessities, Rolled Oats, sugar, butter, milk, beef, soap, tea and bacon.

Mott was not wealthy enough to be immune to the failing economy and despite his various acts of nobleness oblige, he indulged in, what today would seem, a bizarre act. A local man recalls buying ice cream cones from Mott who would lift the ice cream fro the canister with a metal scoop and trim off the excess ice cream from the bottom of the scoop with his jack knife!

The lot of women was shown in the Ledger to be less than good. There seems to be unequal credit for labour in lieu of cash. Mrs. D. Lawson was credited a mere 75¢ for scrubbing the floor of the Masonic Lodge and yet was charged $2.50 for taxi service to visit her husband in the Brockville Hospital. She did other work on the Masonic room and was paid $1.05. A Mrs. LaRue demolished a barn and was credited only $6.00. The accounts that are obviously those of women are all very well managed, with frequent payments and never large sums owing. Life, then, for women, was tough. Edith Mott wife of Blake Mott, more than pulled her weight in the maintenance of the household. Not only was she wife, mother (of four girls), lover, house keeper, store keeper and Post Mistress, but also managed the dining room of Stack’s Hotel.

The amount of money owed on a credit account varied widely from $4.00 or less, to the highest at $186.98 (he did manage to pay it off). Most payments were irregular and small. A prime example of this was one church minister, who despite living quite frugally had an account that perpetually hovered around $73. The frequency of visits to the shop by customers ran from several times a month to three times a day and the purchases indicated that the regulars had poor planning skills. One person returned some ham, excess to their needs, for a 50¢ credit. A man who had an outstanding account of $1.12, ceased coming to the shop and then four years later returned and picked up where he had left off; no interest being charged and no comment recorded. Another man existed on little other than pork and beans, bread and tobacco. It was interesting to note that the boring fare for the average account holder, was spiced up from time to time by small luxury items, despite the lack of money: salmon, ice cram, tropical fruit, maple butter, coconut, ginger snaps, raisins, chocolate, cookies, herbs, spices, herrings and candies. Being typical boosts to the taste buds. An inordinate amount of tobacco was sold at 25¢ a pack; that being very expensive in relation to a day’s wage.

The list of tropical fruits suggested an efficient importing and distribution system was in operation. Fruit could have been shipped from Florida, or the Caribbean, to Montreal and thence by train to Brockville and truck to Lyn.

The listing of perishable items, ice cream in particular, indicates that Mott had a cooling system in the store, Refrigeration as we know it did not come into common use until much late and electricity to run a freezer came into the area only in 1947. A clue is found in the account of Albert (Ab) Cain, a maker of axe handles, where he traded 738 cakes of ice for $12.65 off of his account. The ice cakes, normally 16” square by approximately 12” thick, would have been used in a large wooden ice box type cooler. When awaiting use in the store cooler the cakes were held in a barn at the rear There was snow packed between the cakes of ice and a foot of sawdust all around the inside of the walls acted as insulation. Ice cutting was a difficult and heavy job that separated the men from the boys, meaning that it was a hard won credit.

Midway through 1930 it is evident that fewer customers are coming to the shop and they are buying fewer goods. More ‘trading’ is taking place, meaning less cash flow for Mott. Who has bills to pay in cash. By Christmas the position became intolerable and thus Mott wrote a brief note to his landlords, the IOOF Property Committee, informing them of his intent to quit the premises on January 1st, 1931. it must have been a very difficult note to write, despite its brevity, for it meant that eight years of his efforts, and those of his wife Edith, were in vain.

Gentlemen, Owing to the drop in business and the depression of money, I hereby give you notice of my vacating your store as per agreement, notice taking effect from January 1, 1931.

Respectfully yours, (signature) E.B. Mott”

However there is an entry in the Ledger as late as June 24th, 1931, for goods and services rendered to the Masonic Lodge. So there is a question as to the date of the store closing.

When Mott was running his store in the IOOF building, his wife Edith Mott, who had a reputation as an excellent cook, was running the dinning room of Stack’s Hotel, it being just three doors west of the Mott’s Store. Since Mot had rented his farm house to Eli Mott, Blake was living with his wife Edith and four young girls in rooms above the hotel dining room. When Stack’s Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1928 Mott purchased a house on the corner of Main Street and Lyn Valley Road (39 Main Street). After his store closed Mott was employed by the owners of Billings’ General Store in Lyn. Mott then gained the contract for the Royal Mail in Lyn, the post office at that time was within Billing’s Store. Later the Mott’s left the employ of Billings and moved the Post Office into the IOOF building, in the same place as their old store.

In his obituary in the Recorder and Times, 1945, it was noted that Mott was in business in Lyn until 1937. According to family records, held by Mott’s grandson, Clark Dempsey, Mot was Christened Blake Edward Mott, but on two formal documents, perhaps of a legal nature, he signed his name as E.B. Mott.

Mott was born in Lyn on July 25th, 1881 and died aged 64 in Brockville on January 28th, 1945, he was buried in the Oakland Cemetery. He married Edith Danby in August 1911 and they had four children, Velma, Helen, and twins Doris and Dorothy. Mott was the son of Weldon B. Mott and Marticia Clark. Mott had two brothers, Clark P. Mott of Philadelphia and H.F. Mott, a judge, in Toronto. Mott had an aunt, Bessie Mott, born in Lillies on May 30th, 1853 who died in Brockville on December 5th, 1948, aged 95.

Addendum

The Ledger used for this story starts as of March, 1925 and runs until May, 1931. Several times, at the beginning of the Ledger there is reference to accounts being “Carried from Book #1”, which must have covered the earlier period. That book is not available. The date of Mott opening his store is said to have been 1921, but that is not certain.

The Ledger itemizes a customer’s purchases made at any one time, except for “the weekly supplies” where it is simply listed as “groceries”, which on average, ran from $1.50 to $4.00. The described individual items shed light on a life style and local economy. Where prices are available they are in brackets beside the item. While some prices might appear to be low it ust be remembered that they are in 1925-30 dollars and should be adjusted to reflect the average rural labour’s wage for that era. The prices did not increase much, if at all, during the 1920’s, but real incomes declined, not because a day’s labour was any cheaper, but rather it was increasingly more difficult to find. The dollar value of a day’s labour varied on the task and if the labourer supplied machinery and horses, but simply for a man without machinery anywhere from $2.00 to $2.50 for an eight hour day seemed to be the norm, that’s about 31¢ per hour.

Mott’s general store was small and the number of items he carried must have been enormous, meaning that they probably were jammed in where ever a space was available. To give the reader the impression of the controlled chaos that must have existed the items have been listed in a random fashion.

Meat @ 30¢ a pound

Bread 10¢ a loaf

Herrings 20¢

Sausages @ 20¢ a pound

Soap 9¢

Raisins 18¢

Lemons 6 for 20¢

Corn Flakes 13¢ a box

Life Savers 5¢

Ice Cream 25¢

Cabbage 10¢

Peanut Butter 25¢

Hair net 10¢

Horse Blanket $4.00

Chick Feeds 4 lbs for 25¢

Glass Sealers 12 for $1.40

Caster Oil 20¢

Overalls $2.00

Corn Starch 13¢

Tea 65¢

Packet of Seeds 10¢

Clothes pins 2 doz. 15¢

Laces 5¢ & 15¢

Nutmeg 6 for 5¢

Honey 5 lbs $1.00

Icing Sugar 1 lb for 10¢

Prunes 25¢

Vanilla 10¢

Coat $4.00

Shirt $1.25

Salmon 45¢

Lettuce 5¢

Gloves $1.00

Yeast Cakes 8¢ each

Coffee 1/2 lb 40¢

Scribbler 5¢

Aspirin 25¢

Corn Syrup 1 lb 10¢

Water Mellon 10¢

Skein of Yarn 25¢

Gillett Lye 15¢

Salt 100 lbs $1.40

Bugg Lantern $2.00

Fly Swatter 15¢

Coca 30¢

Ammonia 10¢

Berries 1 box 18¢

Pineapple 20¢

Envelopes 10¢

Fly Paper 10¢

Broom 75¢

Milk 1 pint 5¢

Easter Eggs 5¢ each

Boots $4.25

Sateen 2.75 yards 83¢

Dates 18¢

Flour 100 lbs $4.75

Blueing 7¢

Dutch Cleanser 13¢

Bon Ami 15¢

Cornstarch 13¢

O’Henry Bar 10¢

Magazines 60¢

Macaroni 2 lbs 25¢

Talcum Powder 25¢

Sardines 25¢

Sugar 100 lbs $7.50

Axle Grease 50¢

Axe Handle 50¢

Cookies 1 lb 30¢

Jam 1 jar 65¢

Eggs 1 doz 30¢

Jelly Rolls 20¢

Flash Light $2.00

Paint 1 Gal $5.00

Mott also accepted other items in lieu of cash as payment against credit accounts. Some examples are:

Day Labour was at various dollar values, depending upon the task and if a horse or equipment was supplied. Tom Pettem was credited $8.00 for 2 day’s labour and for that he supplied a machine and a team of horses. Eli Mott, a relative, was credited $2.00 for a days assistance in the store. Seymore Cromwell was credited $9.00 for three day’s labour at fencing. Ed Braut worked eight days for $10.00.

Fire Wood was credited by the cord, or the load. A. Bolton received $3.50 per cord and $4.00 a cord for Tom Pettem. In 1922 two cords were valued at $9.00. Orval Brundige supplied two cords of slab wood for $4.50. Harry Leader traded 5 gallons of syrup for $8.75 and $10.86 for an unknown quantity of fire wood.

J.Bolin traded milk for most of his purchases, 80¢ for 10 quarts was typical, in fact he traded so much milk he was oft times in a credit position.

Joseph Young benefited by 15¢ for fish

Lester Ladd was credited 25¢ for carting 50 loaves of bread.

Walter Jarvis profited by $1.50 for two loads of earth.

Vincent Mercier traded a calf skin for 65¢ and another for 80¢

A number of customers brought in eggs, 10¢ a cozen, and home made butter

In season berries were a popular trading commodity.

Potatoes by the bushel were recorded a number of times.

Joe Bolin was credited 10¢ a pound for 113 pounds of beef

Walter Gardiner was given 10¢ a pound for 115 pounds of beef.

Jos. Mott was credited $20.61 for a heifer

Bryce Moore provided five cedar posts for a credit of $12.50

Charles Herbison did some blacksmithing for $6.90

Albert Cain gained $12.65 for cutting 738 cakes of ice.

Following is a listing of customer names as they appeared in the Ledger between March, 1925 and May, 1931. It reads like a who’s who of Lyn.

 

A.F.&A.M. Gardiner, G.W. Mercier, Vincent
Andress, Chas Gardiner, Stanley Miller, Robert
Andress, S. Gardiner, Walter Molt, G.P.
Armstrong, Vera B.,Miss Gibson, Roy Moore, Curson
Beach, Ralph Green, Clarence Moore, Joel
Bolin, Joe Hamilton, J. Moorree, Bryce
Bolton, A. Hamilton, J., Miss Mott, Arnold
Booth, Ed Heffernan, Edmund Mott, Eli
Bowman, George Hendry, Hilbert Mott, Geo. P.
Brant, Ed. Herbison, Charles Mott, Geo. P.
Brown, G.W., Dr. Herbison, Frank Mott, Jos.
Brundige, Orval Herbison, H. Murphy, Lance
Bufelt, Ed. Hodge, Kenneth Neddo, W.
Bushfield, Archie Hull, Mrs. Nixon, Vfred
Cain, A. Hunter, B. Nunn, Clifford
Cain, Ernie Imerson, O. Nunn, Clifford
Cain, Ourine Jackson, George Pergau, Geo., Mrs.
Cain, Victor Jarvis, Walter Pergau, Helen, Mrs.
Cdonovan, Paddy Jenkinson, James Pettem, Harold
Chant, Frank Johnston, William Pettem, Leonard
Charlton, M. Jowett, Arnold Pettem, Luella
Chisamore, Willie Ladd, Authur Pettem, Tom
Clow W.J. Ladd, Lester Reid, George
Clow, John LaRue., Mrs. Robinson, Rev.
Clow, W. Lawson, Bun Runnett, Fred
Coby, James Lawson, Harmon, Jr. Russell, Lester
Comyn, William Lee, N. Seymore, Cromwell
Cromwell, R. Leeder, John Shane, Richard
Dailey, Mrs. Lennox, Ernie Simpson, Jas.
Darling, Ian Lennox, Mrs. Simpson, John
Darling, Sanford Lowry, Mrs. Slack, Frank
Davis, Ed Mallory, Ira Smith, Ambrose
Delve, Rev. Marshall, Harry Square, John
Dison, Dixon Marshall, James Stafford, Frank
Dollan, Gordon May, William Steacy, John
Dowdell, Rev. McElroy, Stanley Stewart, Jack
Dumont, Orval McLean, Addie, Miss Teskey, Rev.
Earle, Leland McNamara, Hav. Truesdale, C.
Edgley, James McNamara, John, Sr. Truesdale, William
Edgley, Mrs. Dar McNish, Fred Vanattan, Geo. & Sid
Edmunds, Mr. McNish, Harris Watson. Chas
Elizabethtown Twp. Webster, Earl
Fodey, M. Young, Jas. jr.
Young, Jos. Sr.
Young, William Sr.

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