Remembering Usher's Store
When we were kids and had the freedom of our bikes, it was an adventure to ride to Usher’s Store with 25 cents. Back then a quarter bought a lot of penny candy. We’d ride there with our friends, or by ourselves, and I usually had a dog in tow. Today it is a ruin, but back then, Usher’s Store, on the north side of Route 6A just east of the Yarmouth Port line, was painted bright white and the sign above the door was a crisp green to match the wooden screen door that satisfyingly banged shut as you entered.
We were greeted by a very old man, Mr. Usher himself, who always had time for children. If he was not actually in the store when we arrived, Mr. Usher didn’t mind us knocking on the door of the adjacent house, where he lived with his two equally ancient sisters, whom I can’t remember ever having seen. They were a bit mysterious.
In its heyday, Usher’s store was a welcoming place with two gasoline pumps reminiscent of the famous Hopper painting. The daily newspapers were all lined up outside on a shelf next to a moneybox for purchase on the honor system. Inside, the store had a big potbellied wood stove where the old guys could hang around all winter telling stories, the walls were lined with glass cases filled with a fine selection of penny candy, and there was an old case filled with bottles of soda. Shelves around the shop held items of historical interest, including tools and found relics from the old days, some of which Mr. Usher had probably pulled out of his back garden, which my mother, Patty Blair, remembers as very well maintained.
Mr. Usher and his store left many happy childhood memories for the kids who grew up riding bikes with me in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I went [to Ushers] all the time. I walked or rode a bike from my house in Cummaquid. Mr. Usher was a WWI veteran I believe, [I’m] not sure though. He had all these campaign buttons for sale from the old days. I remember he had a bunch of ‘I like Ike’ buttons from the Eisenhower campaign. When I had my appendix out when I was nine, he told me about how he had his taken out in the early 20th century, around 1905 or so. He had those red Swedish fish candies for a penny each,” remembered Brendan Dunning, who grew up down the street from the store in Cummaquid.
Elizabeth Yardumian also grew up in Cummaquid and shared her memories. “When I was little my mom or my aunt would walk me there on nice days. Mr. Usher was so kind, and he let us go to his front door if he wasn’t in the store. He had the warmest smile. Later, a friend and I had a paper route that went through the [then much smaller] Cummaquid Heights, Keveny Lane and out Mill Lane to 6A. We always stopped at Usher’s on the way home and Mr. Usher would ask us about our paper route adventures. There was lots of brightly colored candy, but the caramels with the white stuff in the center were my favorite. Our typical (non-parented) summer day was Usher’s to Hallet’s to Dennis Pond—a great trifecta!”
A generation before these memories, Mary Studley was born in the house next door to Usher’s Store. She remembers her father buying the newspaper there on the honor system, and my mother remembers Mary Studley giving her a gift certificate for Usher’s gas at a party to celebrate the Studleys’ wedding anniversary.
Mary Studley told me, “Mr. Usher was Henry Usher, and he worked at the Yarmouth Port post office, the old one on Main Street, which is now a private home. His father was a blacksmith and had a blacksmith shop there and sold gasoline.” Beyond that, Mr. Usher proved elusive.
The people who knew Mr. Usher are mostly gone, and Yarmouth Port has changed a lot since the old days. In the end I traced Mr. Usher to a grave in Summer Street’s Woodside cemetery and to a death certificate at Yarmouth Town Hall.
According to his headstone, he was born in 1909, making him too young to have served in WWI, but old enough to remember it, and he died in 1990. His obituary states that he “graduated from Yarmouth High School and worked as a clerk in the Yarmouth Port Postal Office from 1930 until retiring in 1972. He then became proprietor of Usher's Store, which was founded in 1924 and operated by his father, Henry Usher Sr., until 1945. Mr. Usher was an avid antiques buyer and seller and a member of the Yarmouth Senior Citizens and the American Association of Retired Persons.”
Today the ruin of Usher’s store is almost hidden by weeds. The ancient crumbling storefront really does evoke the old Cape Cod preserved in Hopper’s paintings, and for the longest time the old green sign was there, rotting over the sagging front door, bearing the legend “Usher’s Store, 1924”. As we all watched the building fall further and further into decay, a friend suggested we steal the sign for donation to the Yarmouth Port historical society as an important relic of the village’s past. But we aren’t really thieves, so the opportunity passed, the sign vanished and soon the building will follow.