The Recorder

CHARLEMONT, Mass. – “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” the “Cheers” TV show theme song, also applies to A.L. Avery and Son, the general store that’s been run by the same family since the Civil War.

Another saying applies here. In the words of the website Trip Advisor: “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

On a busy weekday afternoon, Dennis Avery and his wife, Karen Hogness, are asked for help with plumbing fixtures, fertilizers and where to find a needle and thread.

This is a store with floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with items. A store where the refrigerated meat case is just a stone’s throw from hardware, and where refrigerators holding eggs, milk and juices sit across the aisle from a rack of summer apparel.

This is a store that still carries a good supply of canning jars, but also has school supplies, fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, work boots, animal feed, pressure cookers and camping gear.

“When this store began, it would have been all dry goods,” said Dennis Avery, the fifth-generation to run the store. “There were no perishable foods, only staples, like flour and molasses.”

“You wouldn’t buy your eggs from a store,” he said. “You would have bought your eggs from your neighbor. Or you would have had chickens.”

“Back then, axes would have been sold without a handle on it — you would go out and make your own,” Avery said.

“There would have been fabric. I know they sold a lot of cloth off bolts. There would have been bulk seed, plow parts. I know we sold (farm animal supplies) – oxen yokes, harnesses and a general range of tools.”

“There was no self-serve then,” adds Hogness.

“That’s right,” agrees her husband. “There was no such thing in those days. It became a self-serve shop very early in the 1930s. Before that, you would shop by letting someone wait on you. In the old days, the store was more like a waiting room with a counter,” he explained.

The back part of the store, with its narrow aisles, was filled with hundreds of drawers, and the clerks would know where everything was stored. “If you wanted to see cloth, the clerk brought it out to you,” he said.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Avery’s, a business that was started by two Avery brothers, before it became A.L. Avery Store in 1861.

At the recent Yankee Doodle Days, the store received several honors from the community and the state. These included an annual Community Award from the Friends of the Fairgrounds, the Doc Streeter Citizenship Award from the Charlemont Lions Club, acknowledgement from the Board of Selectmen, and certificates of recognition from Congress, from the state House of Representatives and an official citation from the state Senate.

Also on display were artifacts from the store’s past 150 years, which are on permanent loan to the town’s Historical Society museum, in Town Hall. “The ledgers, we had boxes and boxes of old ledgers,” says Hogness. “They are now part of the collection at Historic Deerfield.”

Historic Deerfield’s collection lists 36 boxes worth of store bills, receipts and personal correspondence, primarily from 1867 to 1890.

Amos L. Avery (1831 to 1917) worked at the Easthampton and at the Bernardston general stores as a young man, returning to his hometown of Charlemont, to go into a general store business with Thomas Mayhew.

In the 1850s the store was called Mayhew & Avery, but in 1861, Amos and his brother, William, bought out Mayhew and the store became W.H. and A.L. Avery. Amos bought out William’s share in 1867, renaming the store A.L. Avery. It became A.L. Avery & Son when his son, Oscar, joined him in 1890.

Oscar’s son Henry L. Avery Sr. joined in 1927. A few decades later, Dennis’ father Henry Jr. and his brother Burton (also called “Bud”), took charge.

Dennis Avery started working in the store during his high school years, before going to Oberlin College in Ohio, where he met his future wife. They moved back to Charlemont and began working in the family store in 1974.

Dennis and Hogness became partners and owners as the elder Averys went into semi-retirement and retirement.

In recent years, the store has been for sale.

“We would hope that, if someone takes over the store it would still be A.L. Avery & Son,” said Hogness. “This is not a gift shop. We actually sell things people need.”