Sedalia merchant survives robbery

By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist

December 30, 2013

The chain supermarket selling a wide range of food, paper goods, health and beauty needs, and perhaps small hardware and kitchen items developed during the 1930s and 1940s. The idea of a self-service grocery store in which the customer selected goods from off the shelves without the help of a clerk had been introduced in the 1920s, but had not become common in small communities.

Small neighborhood grocery stores served the needs of consumers, providing staple items and canned goods to supplement those grown in home gardens and canned at home. These stores, operated by friendly merchants who knew most of the customers, offered delivery service and charge accounts. They opened early in the morning and remained open late in the evenings.

The neighborhood grocery store clerk retrieved the items from the shelves, packaged them, and tallied the cost for the customer. Some also served a small selection of sandwiches, chili and other prepared foods.

Sedalia had a number of small grocery stores; while some were concentrated in the downtown area, others were scattered throughout the city. Newspapers from the first two decades of the 20th century show these stores to be a frequent target of thieves.

The Scally Grocery Company, located at the corner of East Main Street and Lamine Avenue, was operated by John Scally, who lived at 231 S. Harrison Ave. Scally’s store featured a candy case at the front of the store, a lunch counter, shelves of canned goods, and a counter with a cash register.

On Dec. 15, 1920, Scally was working late. The other employees had gone home and Scally was alone in the store at 11:40 p.m. when two men entered and walked to the lunch counter. One ordered a bowl of chili and the other sat with his head down on the counter. Scally told a Democrat reporter that he thought their behavior was odd so he watched them, fearing they might “be looking for some free lunch.”

The men left the store. Scally went to the back of the store to get a lantern. While he was in the rear, the two men came back. They called to Scally that they wanted some candy. Scally came to the front of the store and asked what kind of candy they wanted. The men indicated a bin of candy in the corner of the display counter.

When Scally bent to retrieve the candy, the men shouted, “Throw up your hands and get ‘em up damn quick.” Scally told the reporter he thought the men were joking.

They were not. When Scally looked up, he was staring into the barrels of the guns the men were pointing at him. Terrified, he later said the barrels looked to be the size of wagon wheels.

“I’ll never throw up my hands,” Scally shouted as he reached to the shelf behind him for a can of beans to throw at the robbers. They fled through the open door. As they left, one of the men aimed at Scally, shouting, “Take that then, you…” followed by a string of expletives. He fired.

Fortunately for Scally, the gun misfired. Scally telephoned the police, who came, investigated the scene, and gave Scally a revolver to use for protection when he walked home. Police continued to investigate, but as of Friday, Dec. 19, had no leads.

Scally told the Democrat reporter he feared the men were going to pin him behind the counter. In a burst of bravado, he said, “There would have been a heap of cans scattered around the store” as he would have thrown cans of food at the robbers. “But,” the reporter noted, “he’s mighty glad the gun didn’t go off.”