Story Birney Imes | Photograph Luisa Porter
The first-time visitor to John’s Grocery could not be faulted if he were rendered speechless by the assortment of merchandise jammed into this 20-by-40-foot room. Once recovered, he might reach for the most obvious cliché, the one about the kitchen sink.
He’d almost be right.
Charlie J. Jones leans back on a swinging gate that separates a narrow space behind the counter from the rest of the store and takes stock of his creation. Inventory is layered from floor to ceiling in no discernible order. One wall is covered with hardware and kitchen utensils, the other with groceries; a cooler overflowing with iced-down beer and soft drinks takes up most of the aisle between the two.
If this were New York City, the art world would deem this an installation; in Crawford, Mississippi, it’s just a grocery and hardware store.
The visitor scans the tapestry of merchandise and comments on the half-empty display card of Bicycle Dice.
Jones takes it from there: “I have inner tubes and brakes for bicycles, chainsaw chains, PVC pipe, pickled pigs’ feet, screen for a screen door, any kind of saw blade, canned beef stew, (I did have commodes but people kept breaking them and bringing them back), any kind of battery, one of those things you clean babies’ noses with, margarita mix, hydraulic oil, antifreeze, coffee makers, beware-of-dog signs, incense, horse feed, dog food, helium balloons, potato peelers … .”
Can’t find something? Just ask. Jones knows the location of every item and its cost.
Yellow hoop cheese and bologna both sell for $4.75 a pound and are a draw. “Folks come up from Noxubee County for the bologna and hoop cheese,” says Thelma Jones, Charlie’s wife of almost 40 years.
Jones opened a liquor store next door in 1978; the grocery and hardware store came into being about two decades later. The businesses are the last two standing among the two-block stretch of crumbling brick buildings that constitute downtown Crawford.
As the visitor readies to go, Jones stops him. “Let me get you some bologna and cheese. Get yourself some saltines,” he says, pointing to the front of the store.