Driving along the streets of Joplin, one will occasionally recognize an old corner store standing forlornly in the midst of modest homes, a survivor of a simpler era. Though ragged and ramshackle, these sentinels of commerce were once lively, thriving cornerstones of many a neighborhood. As the era of chain grocery stores dawned, these mom and pop operations slowly faded from existence, leaving only memories.
One such store was owned by Curtis and Nancy Douthitt. The couple owned a small grocery store at 202 North Gray Avenue in Joplin that originally opened in 1903. Like most store owners, they lived above their store. When they bought the store in the 1940s, there were 139 neighborhood grocery stores in Joplin, including three others on the same block. The Douthitts sold staples like milk, bread, sugar, salt, and candy. In the early years, you could purchase two cookies for only a penny. At one time, the store employed five employees and a delivery boy. For a twenty-year period the couple worked seven days a week to meet their customers’ needs. The store’s willingness to extend credit to its patrons and quality service kept the Douthitts in business. Nancy Douthitt said that, “We could write a book about the three generations who’ve gone through the store. Grown men come back to Curtis now and say, ‘Do you remember me?’ and he does.”
But in the spring of 1987, Curtis and Nancy announced that they were closing up shop, and that their building would be for sale. Only one neighborhood grocery, Melin’s, reportedly remained open in Joplin after Douthitt’s grocery closed. Melin’s, it is worth noting, was run by Margery and Charles Melin. The Douthitts noted that they would be shopping in a new grocery store and, as Curtis remarked, “We’ve been in them before just to look, but they never had anything we didn’t – just more of it.”
The Douthitt store still stands at 202 North Gray Avenue, a reminder of a slower, more friendly time.