This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.
LOWRY CITY – When Scott’s Hardware opened in 1947, Ruth McCarthy was there — and 75 years later, she still is.
Now 90 years old, Mrs. McCarthy was just a teenager when her father and brother bought out a local hardware store, working weekends while she went to school. Aside from some time away to raise her three sons — born in 1951, 1956 and 1960 — Mrs. McCarthy has been working at the store virtually ever since, and today runs it single-handedly.
“My dad was in business from the time I was just a little tyke,” she says. “He was in the grocery business. So we kind of grew up in a store.”
Scott’s only had one competitor in its 75-year history, and that store didn’t last long.
In the past, Scott’s was much bigger than it is today, and included furniture, appliances and propane gas. Six buildings held the operation in downtown Lowry City, a tiny St. Clair County town that time passed by like the speedy cars on nearby Highway 13.
That’s where the red-and-white-striped store, today technically just hardware, now sits. And so does Mrs. McCarthy, with eyes smiling through sparkly glasses, behind the cash register and adding machine, and surrounded by typical hardware products and more.
In the back, there’s a scale that’s been with the store as long as Mrs. McCarthy — but is older than she, as the family bought it used and still weighs nails and more by the pound.
“We bought it when we bought the store back in 1947,” she says of the vintage piece which she guesses is greater than 100 years old. “And they test it every year. They just tested it not very long ago. Cost $17 to get it tested, but it’s right up to par. Oh, I’ve had people want to buy it. I said, ‘No, it’s not for sale.’”
She talks of days gone by, when Lowry City was a different place than the one with a downtown district that today is nearly empty of people and businesses.
“When we bought the store in ‘47, there were five grocery stores up there,” she says. “There was a dime store. There was a theater. And there was a bank and the post office and a drug store and restaurant.
“Everything was full, and now it’s, just, well…”
Like the changes at the store — which has seen greater shifts in plumbing supplies than anything else, she says — her life has evolved with time.
“I was a Scott for 16 years and then married my husband at almost 17 years,” she says. “I got married young and then stayed with it a long time. Still missing him — he’s been gone nearly 16 years. We live right by the cemetery. Just maybe it’s an eighth of a mile.”
“Do you go by there fairly often?” I ask.
“Every day, every twice a day. And he’s right on the front row,” she says, with a pause. “We’ve got a lot of people out there now seems like.”
She tells of her father who also enjoyed the store, and worked until his 80s when health concerns forced him to step back.
“He wanted to work when he knew he couldn’t,” she says. “He was just that kind. You don’t see a lot of people like that anymore, that still want to keep going.”
Perhaps you would fall into that same category, I ask her.
“I guess I would,” she says. “It’s been quite a journey.
“I’ll be 91 in August. I had no idea I’d ever live that long. Mother was 81, and Dad was 85. And my two brothers that are gone died at 82. My husband died at 82. I had no idea. I guess I’m too ornery to die or something.”
In all her life, the only time Mrs. McCarthy says she was tempted to sell the store was last season, when illness and weather forced her to stay home most of several weeks.
“Just this winter is the first time I’ve ever felt like I wanted out of it. Because I didn’t feel like being here,” she shares. “In fact, I was closed most of January when there was snow and ice. My youngest son, he says, ‘Now, you’re not getting out in this.’ So I just stayed home. And then I had shingles and I had to close during that time. And so I guess I just got used to being home and kind of enjoyed it.”
So she put the store up for sale. If anyone is interested, they may call the realtor and find out more. It’s being sold along with Scott’s Holiday Corrals, which is owned by Mrs. McCarthy’s brother, and focuses on recreational vehicles and is adjacent to the hardware store.
But in the meantime, she is still enjoying her work, which has regained its joy as her health improved.
“A guy just left a while ago who said, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here,’” she recounts, continuing what he said: “’I don’t want you moving out.’”