By Katrina England
Reporter, Hart Co. News-Herald
Small town Mom-and-Pop stores and restaurants have slowly faded over time, even in rural areas like our own.
At one time, Hart County was home to many businesses where owners and patrons alike truly did know every single person who walked through the door.
One of those places was the Monroe Grocery, also known simply as “Libby’s,” which was owned by Elizabeth Higgason. The grocery sat near the corner of Hwy. 677 and Hardyville Road.
If you lived anywhere near the Monroe area, chances are good that you’ve stopped in for milk, bread, odds and ends, and even VHS movies for rent.
Though Libby passed away in 2017, the years she ran her grocery store (59 years, to be exact) are forever etched into some of the fondest memories of those who lived near her.
Libby’s grandson, Joel Huff, recalled memories of his times with her in her store.
“Farming was big, the tobacco industry was really strong, and when it was time for lunch and you were in that store, you’d better be ready to work and make sandwiches and prepare lunch, because that place was just booming with business,” said Huff. “We were her grand kids, so when you were there, you were expected to work and help out when it got busy.”
Back then, Libby would keep a charge account for her customers. Each customer had their own slip of paper in her counter drawer. Huff remembers customers filling their gas tanks and coming in to let Libby know they’d bring money when they were paid on Friday.
“She’d say ‘Okay, hon,’ and the people would come back and would pay her,” said Huff. “That’s something that don’t happen today and can’t happen today.”
Libby’s Monroe Grocery Store was one of the few places to eat lunch aside from Horse Cave, Hardyville, and Greensburg. However, it wasn’t merely a place to stop for lunch.
“She had gas pumps, she had kerosene, she had diesel fuel,” said Huff. “Inside that store, even though it wasn’t very big, she probably had at least one of anything you would need at any particular time, from fish hooks to nuts and bolts to anything. I don’t know of anything I ever needed that she didn’t have. There may have just been one or two of something on the shelf, but it was there, so if you were in a pinch and needed something, most likely she had it.”
During the winter, Libby and her husband, Lewis, would stay at the store, as opposed to their home where they farmed during the summer.
“Their store didn’t really have an open and close time,” recalled Huff. “Whenever it seemed to slow down, she would shut the doors. When she got up in the morning, she had regular coffee drinkers waiting, who would come in and make the coffee.”
Huff also recalled Sundays after church, when they would be gathered together having family time, and Libby would still look after those in the community.
“The phone would ring, and it could be anybody saying, ‘Libby, I need a loaf of bread,’ and she’d say ‘Okay, hon, just come to the back door,’” recalled Huff. “She wouldn’t do business on Sunday, but she’d give them a loaf of bread and tell them to come back and see her later in the week. We didn’t exchange money on Sunday, but we’d hand bread or milk out the back door.”
Huff shared memories of the wood stove inside the store, where customers would come in and gather to warm themselves when they’d been out working.
“I remember her sending me out to pump gas,” he said. “Old school terminology was ‘draw gas,’ and she’d tell me to go out and draw gas for a person.”
Libby’s was also where Huff learned about Lava soap, which Libby said would clean deeper when workers came in to clean up and eat.
“Lava soap stayed on that sink because of all the hard working hands,” said Huff. “People’s hands were so dirty that Lava soap was the only way to get them clean enough to eat. I’d have to clean that sink up after lunch because there was so much tobacco dirt and grease from mechanics and things like that.”
Huff described the simple time back then when people adhered to the honor system and felt safe leaving doors unlocked.
“Back then, you didn’t really worry about people stealing,” said Huff. “Back in the days when I was a kid, she’d leave the door unlocked and people would come in.”
Huff also shared that Libby refused to raise prices on her customers over the last few years she ran her store.
“She wouldn’t change her prices,” he said. “She would simply say, ‘Well, that’s what I want to charge.’ The way we looked at it was that it was her life. She loved being around people and helping people. Those places are gone, and that honesty program where everybody knows anybody and nobody takes advantage of you is gone.”
One of Libby’s most frequent and loyal patrons, Deward Hensley, shared memories of decades he’d spent at Libby’s store.
“We would go up there and (Libby) was always in,” said Hensley. “She would serve breakfast, and she kept coffee all the time. She always had something for you.”
Hensley described many activities that would go on in the vicinity of the store, including games of Rook. When two individuals got into a scuffle over a game of Rook, Libby prompted them to change to a game of checkers.
Many times, even after the store closed, customers would hang around on the front porch, lounging on the bench out front or conversing with others.
“She didn’t care as long as people weren’t causing trouble,” said Hensley. “It was so good to have in the community…We miss it so bad. We have nothing in Monroe now, not even a soft drink box.”
Although Libby’s Grocery is no longer operational, the memories and stories are still vivid to those who spent so much time there.