When Esicar’s Goes Dark

October10/ 2007

…. It’s a “meat store” in Southeast Missouri but it could be a drug store in your town or a haberdashery or a 3-chair barbershop, or cozy little restaurant that your folks patronized and now you do and you figured your kids and grandkids would too.  A linchpin merchant in a small town.  At the end of September Esicar’s Old Hickory Smokehouse (just “Esicar’s to the locals) will “go dark”.   The oddity is IT”S NOBODY FAULT…. It’s just time.  (AND POST-GAME REPORT!)

Mizzus and her family were Esicar’s loyalists long before I “I do-ed” my way into their family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  On my first Meet The Future In-laws visit I was more concerned with not using the wrong spoon or being overly dopey.  But I bet we snacked on some Esicar’s summer sausage that weekend.  I know we’ve had beau coups of it during the 24 years since.  There is some in the fridge right now.  Soon it will be gone and there won’t be any more.

After 73 years as a staple “specialty merchant” along the banks of The Mississippi two hours south of St Louis, The Esicar Family says it’s time to close.

Old Man Edgar Esicar started the small butcher shop in 1934, moving to the current location in 1951.  Edgar’s grandson Blake, 56, runs it these 1087301-Ldays.  Do the math …. In bizness 73 years with no corporate buy-out.  The walls can’t talk but over 50 years of smoked meat give off a savory aroma to die for.

Now the rest of the story is supposed to be “Wal-Mart stole their customers” …. or “Federal meat packing regulations has made storefront butcher shops obsolete” …. or “they were sued by some moron who tried to stick a sausage in his ear and it got stuck”.  Nope.  Esicar’s is closing because the next generation of Esicar kids has other career interests.

Business is just fine.  In addition to a long list of commercial accounts in a 50-mile radius, and a thriving on-line bizness; just about everybody in Cape shopped at Esicar’s either weekly, monthly or before holiday family gatherings.

….. Mom always placed her same order w/ Mr Esicar the first of December but after 30 years he kinda knew it.  Dad would go pick it up a few days before Christmas.  You usually tagged along with him.  Your 17th Christmas after you got your license Dad said “Son, howsabout you take the Buick and go over to Esicar’s and pick up our sausage order.  Here’s a coupla 20s.  That oughta cover it.  Stop by Ms Dunwoody’s Bakery and get us a boxa those chocolate éclairs your Mom loves so much.  We’ll surprise her.” …. Wow, Dad trusts me to pick up the sausage at Esicer’s.  I better not screw this up. 

From my personal experience as an “outsider” who did not grow up on Esicar’s assorted meat products …. I think it’s similar to a small town North Carolinian’s deep devotion to a local barbecue joint.  To an outsider it’s just another Eastern NC “que shack” but to the locals it’s part of their civic fibre deserving of a devotional pride beyond rational explanation.  Every BBQ joint is somebody’s “the best”.

I’m usually a stickler for rational thought but civic rallying pride for a local family-owned business deserves a BobLee Double Huzza.

Equate all this to that drug store or dress shop or shade tree mechanic that was a staple in “your town”.   It “was always there” growing up.  You went off to college then to seek your fortune in a big city ….. you come back for brief weekends and holidays but don’t keep up with the daily goings on any longer.  You just assume some things never change then one day on an extended visit “back home” you’re cruisin’ around town and IT’S GONE!  OMIGOSH!


   “Mom, Dad what happened to ______ ?”

“Oh, they closed up about three years ago.  I thought we told you.  Old Mr. Tate’s arthritis got so bad he couldn’t work the register and Mrs Tate broke her hip.  None of their kids had interest in the shop.  They couldn’t bear the thought of “outsiders” running the store so they just closed up.  I read recently that a developer has bought the property and that bowling alley next door and plans to put in a KIA Dealership.  What’s a KIA?

     You process the information with pained reluctance.  With the same sort of “I don’t like this at all.” you felt when your folks said they weren’t going to bother with a Christmas tree this year since none of the grandkids would be coming in.  In fact, they are going to spend Christmas on a cruise to The Caymans.  …. NOOOOOO!


   Yes, some “Mom & Pops” do get Wal-Marted …. some meet “death by mis-management” ….. estate taxes kill off a bunch …. and some just “go dark”.

Minding a sole proprietor retail establishment is living life on a very short leash.  In the old days Mom and Pop actually lived upstairs over the store.  You don’t see that much any more but the days are long and someone has “to mind the store”.  A bit like dairy farming.  It may be cold and yucky but the cows don’t milk themselves.

Even with good loyal help (all these linchpin merchants seem to have career employees) you knew you would see “Mr Esicar” behind the The-Butcher-Block-Kelley-and-Abbigail-Whisnant-1026-2012_8394counter.  Depending upon the size of your town, he either knew you and your family or recognized your face and knew you live “in the old Keller place across from the Presbyterian Church”.

He watched his pennies but quietly extended credit to loyal customers based on some internal clock that told him “Sam’s a little short.  He got laid off at the plant.  But he’s good for it” ….. a few times he’s been stung but not enough to change his policy.

He knows that your mom likes hers cut wafer thin but your dad prefers his a little thicker so he cuts it half and half.  You didn’t have to remind him.  He just always knew.  When you come back next year he’ll still remember …… EXCEPT

 This Christmas Esicar’s will be dark.

    There’s a franchise meat store at the mall next to the pretzel place.  Their stuff is pre-packaged and it’s “OK” ….. but they don’t know your name.  And the bored girl at the register, with the pierced eyebrow, has never heard of “the old Keller Place across from the Presbyterian Church.”

Growing up in a small town is a lifetime of memories ….. and moving on.

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