Okay, I know what picture just popped into your mind right now. You are thinking of the Old West and the only store in town where miners and settlers went to get their monthly supplies. You are seeing barrels of flour and pickles, big glass jars of candy and displays of prairie fabrics, farm tools and wagon wheels. There are burlap sacks of sugar stacked next to the glass display cases of jewelry and knives. There is an older gentleman with a white mustache and a visor on his head. Sorry to disappoint you, but, as nice as it would be, there is not a store like this in our small town.
The General Store in our area is invisible. It goes out across the radio waves everyday on our local radio station. Every weekday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. the station opens up the phone lines and people can call in to "buy, sell, or trade" almost anything they wish.
There are certain ground rules for the general store. At the beginning of the program they make sure that you know that you cannot sell guns, ammunition or pharmaceuticals. You also have to tell where you are calling from. The announcers also make sure you know that you have to turn your radio volume down as they will get major feedback while you are on the phone. If I had a nickel for the many, many times I have heard the announcer holler "Turn your radio down" to a caller who didn't comply....
When you call, you don't need to give your name, just your phone number, the town you are calling from and what it is you want to sell, give away or want to buy. It's fun to listen for familiar voices of people you know and what they are trying to sell or find. People also like to announce friends and relatives birthdays by way of this program. I have heard birthdays announced for people as far away as Georgia. 'Not sure the purpose in announcing that birthday, as the one celebrating won't get to have the novelty of hearing their name announced on the airwaves! I guess it's kind of a joke to be the one to call in and announce someones birthday, and their age. I don't think I would think it was funny.
The problem with the General Store is that people view it as some kind of Santa Claus. If they tell what they are looking for, then maybe someone will have that exact item and sell it to them for next to nothing. Here is an example that I heard one time:
Announcer: "Caller number 25, you're on the air. Where are you calling from?"
Caller: " I'm calling from ______________."
Announcer: "Go ahead with your item"
Caller: "Yeah, I'm needing a couch in like-new condition. I'm looking for one that is medium blue with a
small floral pattern. It must be from a pet-free and smoke-free home. I can pay about $25."
I'd be really surprised if they even got a call back on that one.
One caller broke the rules and tried selling a gun. The announcer let him get through his whole description, price and phone number before he told him that they were not allowed to sell firearms over the radio waves. The announcer did make sure that everyone knew what the phone number was and even repeated it several times.
I have used the General Store a few times. I had a very old, upright piano that I was getting rid of. This thing was a monster and taking up too much space in my house, so I called in 2 days in a row, telling people that it was in tune, and played well, and that I was just giving it away. I waited and waited for the phone to ring and received no calls. Finally, on the third day, I called and announced the same piano, but was asking $25 for it. Immediately the phone rang and I sold it on the spot. Weird.
In a small town area, you get those who like to debate as well. I'm sure the General Store is not supposed to be a venue for political debate, but a few years ago, during a presidential campaign, the announcer and a caller got into a very heated discussion about the positives and negatives of a certain candidate. The announcer was accused of talking down on this candidate (he had mentioned the debate from the night before in passing). I heard the announcer apologize later, but it was rather tense for a few moments.
I have heard everything from tractors to prom dresses sold on the air. Sometimes there is an unspoken story with an item that is sold, like a brand new wedding dress. It's surprising what people have to sell and what prices they ask for them. But, we all want something for nothing, don't we? And, you'll get that in a small town.....