99-Year-Old Eclectic Grocery Store Keeps Terlton History Alive

Wednesday, May 16th 2012, 6:18 pm
By: Craig Day

At a time when small town grocery stores find it hard to compete with big retailers, some of Oklahoma's Own are running a tiny place that's still in business.

Even though they only have a handful of regular customers, I went to Pawnee County to find out what makes the Terlton Grocery Store unique.

In Terlton, there are only a few of the old buildings left.

The old bank building, an aging jail, and then there's the Terlton Grocery, which turns 100 next year and is still open.

"The original owners built it as a coffin maker, undertaker, hardware store," store owner John Herrod said.

Back in 1913, those owners, Charles and Clara Kibbe, invested in a community with potential.

"The town has seen a lot of stuff come and go," Herrod said.

The first official federal census of Terlton, taken back in 1930, showed a population of 234 people.

The town reached its population peak a decade later, after adding 11 more residents.

And how many live in Terlton now?

"The census says 105, but they must have counted dogs, cats and chickens," Herrod said.

So how do the owners, John and his wife, Latena, keep the store open with only 15 to 20 regular customers, at a time when other small town stores are closing?

"As long as it pays the utilities, well, we'll keep it open," Herrod said. "When it doesn't, we'll have to close it down."

The Terlton grocery is definitely not a QuikTrip.

"We don't get in too big of a hurry around here," Herrod said.

But it is a place where people come for memories as much as groceries.

Along with shelves stocked with cornmeal and Kool Aid, you'll find a lot of cool stuff.

"This came from a station that was here," he said, pointing to an old sign. "This come from Yoder, Kansas. It's an old switchboard. There's old political buttons."

Most items are things people give him.

"Wagon steps," he said.

Others are things he buys to put on display. Like a giant gumball machine.

"A fellow drove up here one day in a Pinto, with that strapped on the top."

There are old photos, a dummy practice bomb.

They even give away used books at the store to encourage reading.

Along with the Cap'n Crunch, there are arrowheads and moose heads.

"A lot of kids come up and pet his nose."

And a lot of folks come just to take a step back in time.

"It's good for people to know history."

Harrod likes to help bring back memories for people.

That's why the store survives: a little bit for convenience. A little because of the curious items on display. And a lot because of the character of the place.

"Yeah. And our stubbornness," he said. "I think that has something to do with it still being here."