Chatham County

You can buy a piece of Siler City history at Farmers Alliance auction Saturday

Farmers Alliance Store manager and shareholder Terrill Ellington stands by an old grinding wheel that will be auctioned off Saturday.
Farmers Alliance Store manager and shareholder Terrill Ellington stands by an old grinding wheel that will be auctioned off Saturday.

The last day of a Siler City commercial stalwart has come.

After surviving more than a century selling seeds, shoes, cast-iron skillets and just about any other ware a farmer or gardener might need, the Farmers Alliance Store closed for good two months ago. On Saturday, the last of the store’s treasures will be auctioned off, and the gathering place will only exist in memories.

Store manager and shareholder Terrill Ellington watched Friday as workers from Jerry L. Harris Auctions laid out the last of store’s inventory. It was an eclectic mix of Americana. There were feed bags emblazoned with “Chatham Hog Supplement,” old wooden drink crates, a tobacco cutter, yard sticks with various “Farmers Alliance” logos. It was like opening a time capsule.

“I am surprised we lasted this long,” Ellington said. “We just don’t have the customers anymore. The farmers all went by the wayside. This new generation, I don’t know what they’re doing.”

There was a time when the store, at 134 S. Chatham Ave., sold the seeds that turned into crops and sprouted gardens. Families came to shop from all over.

“If those walls could talk they’d tell a good story about this town,” Ellington said.

But those times have passed.

The store opened in 1888 when a group of people in the town decided they needed a general store. A company was formed, and 90 share of stock were sold. There was a limit of two shares per family, Ellington said. The original owners are long gone, but the shares were passed down through families.

One shareholder who made his way to Siler City to see the store was L.D. Summers of Cedar Grove. He inherited his share from a great uncle, Herman Hillard, a blacksmith in Siler City and one of the original investors.

“I didn’t know much about the store other than it was here,” Summers said. “It’s sad to see these old stores close.”

Ellington said the store has limped along for much of the past decade.

“What we were doing wasn’t working, and I don’t know what would,” he said.

Siler City’s downtown has suffered the same decline that many others faced when highway bypasses shifted commerce to the outskirts of town.

Farmers Alliance sits a block from the main intersection in downtown. Its two entrances divided the store into farm and garden on one side and clothes and shoes on the other. Once on a thriving corner, it now sits beside a storefront church.

Ellington was down to four employees, two of them part time, by the time the store closed. One former employee worked there for more than 50 years, Ellington said.

“The last three years we barely were able to make ends meet,” Ellington said. “If we hadn’t owned the building we would have closed a long time ago. We were digging deeper and deeper all the time.”

The auction starts a 9 a.m. There are vintage tools, country store items, old signs and antique display cases.