According to the 1927 Sedalia City Directory, 92 grocery stores operated in Sedalia. A few, such as the Piggly-Wiggly Bird Store at 313 South Ohio Avenue and the Kroger Stores at 305 South Engineer Avenue, 420 West Sixteenth Street, 614 South Ohio Avenue, 123 East Second Street, and 210 West Main Streets, were connected to large chains. Some, such as Menefee’s Store at 400-402 West Second Street, also sold livestock feed and supplies.
Most of the stores, however, were small, locally owned stores selling fresh produce and meats, canned goods, and staple items to the people in the neighborhood. A few sold gasoline and oil to motorists. Most offered delivery service to their customers’ homes and many extended credit to their patrons. Historian Lewis Atherton notes that the typical grocery store was open long hours, from early morning into the evening.
Theodore and Stella Griffith owned a grocery store and filling station at the corner of Twelfth Street and Marshall Avenue. They lived in a house next door to the store. The Griffiths, like many other Sedalia families, were struggling to recover financially after they had suffered the devastating loss of their money when the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Sedalia crashed on June 16, 1926.
On Sept. 30, 1927, the Griffiths suffered another loss. That evening, Mrs. Griffith was sitting at a counter in their store reading the daily newspapers. Mr. Griffith had served two customers, one a neighbor and the other a traveling man, who purchased gasoline. He returned to the store, put the money from the gas sales away, and had rejoined his wife at the counter. At 7:30 that evening, two young men, one armed with a pistol, entered the store. They were shabbily dressed, according to the account in the Sedalia Capital, and one walked in a “stooped-over position.”
The stooped-over man brandished his pistol and shouted at Mr. Griffith to “Stick ‘em up.” He did not pay attention to Mrs. Griffith, who moved toward a side door where she hoped her daughters, then in the family home, might hear the robbers. She screamed several times, but the neighbors and her daughters believed her screams to be simply the noise of “carousing young people” and ignored them.
The taller of the two robbers went behind the counter and took a small box containing change and another box containing larger bills. He appeared to know exactly where the money boxed were kept, suggesting he was familiar with the store. Mrs. Griffith begged the robbers not to take the money, telling them they had lost all their money in the bank collapse.
Mr. Griffith tried to get the attention of the mail carrier F. M. Nichols, who was at a neighbor’s house, but neither Nichols nor the neighbor heard him. Surprisingly, the robbers made no effort to quiet Mrs. Griffith’s screams. Instead, they walked out the front door, got into their car, a Ford they had parked on Marshall Street north of the store, and drove away.
The Griffiths finally were able to call the police. Officers A. M. Hampton and Collie Moore responded quickly. After the police arrived, the neighbors and the Griffith daughters noted the commotion and arrived at the store to offer by then unneeded assistance.
The Griffiths reported what had occurred and that between $200 and $250 had been taken. Mrs. Griffith noted the young men were perhaps 18 or so, and that she believed she recognized one of them, but that he had his cap pulled partly over his eyes in an attempt to disguise himself. As of Oct. 4, however, the robbers remained at large.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.