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BY MIKE AVITT
Hopefully, you’re familiar with a shop in Chariton, Iowa called Piper’s Candy Store. They have home-made candies and doughnuts, but also groceries. The store still has hardwood floors and wooden shelving. Vintage food and soap packaging is on display throughout the store. This week, we’ll look at Mount Ayr’s connection to the Piper Bros. history.
The storefront on the right, in this week’s photo says, “Piper’s Groceries,” on the window. The building was erected in 1902 for Amos “Fatty” Collins and his Palace of Sweets, a bakery and restaurant. Collins died in 1933 and in 1934 Howard Piper opened a grocery store here at 118 W. Madison in September 1934.
Howard was the son of Joseph L. Piper, a long-term and successful grocer in Chariton. The Piper Bros. business now had stores in Chariton, Mount Ayr, Corydon, and Millerton. The Record-News stated Joe L. had been in business 35 years by 1934. Mr. and Mrs. Howard Piper, and their two children, moved to Mount Ayr that fall.
Howard had several brothers and one of them was an excellent baker. Ovens were installed in the store and the bakery department opened in August 1935.
Piper Bros had much competition in the 1930s. Snow White Bakery was a well-known bakery and there were many grocery stores in town, including H. H. Wilson, United Food Market, and the Supply Store. Meat markets provided competition for meat sales.
In the late 1930s, big-city bakeries began bread delivery to small towns. This hurt small-town bakeries, so, in 1939, Piper Bros. removed their baking equipment and began installing freezer lockers. A customer could rent a locker, store their own meat (from butchered farm animals) and retrieve their food with their own key. This was important because rural Ringgold County did not get electricity until 1945. Options were limited when storing meat on the farm without electricity. The lockers were built and opened to the public on October 1, 1939.
World War II was a bad time for any retail store and Piper Bros. was no exception. Howard Piper had a public auction on April 13, 1945 to close out his store. Pine’s Dairy moved into 118 W. Madison on April 16, 1945.
Piper had no way of knowing, but this was likely a bad time to sell a business because World War II would soon end and all Mount Ayr businesses would experience a “boom.” On the other hand, rural electricity in 1945 would decrease the demand for freezer lockers.
Piper’s is still in business on the north side of the Chariton square. And it really has a sense of the old-time general store and confectionery.