Need any whale-bone today … An old-fashioned coffee grinder … A chamber mug … or a purple shirt? Perhaps a boat or a ready-cut house? You’re not likely to find them at your neighborhood store, but Alfred L. Clark might be able to supply you. You’ll have to drive out to his Solemint General Store at the junction of Soledad and Mint Canyons. That’s within a few miles of Saugus, California. Hundreds of people are hoarding their gas to get there to trade at America’s most unusual store.
You will park your car among others from every state in the Union, and a few out of it. You’ll wonder what the attraction is on the front porch. Over there where that group is pointing to the wall and laughing so hilariously. You go over to discover some of the most original, risqu&etilde; and witty advertisements that you’ve ever read. There are several hundreds of these unique reminders on the wall. They are made up and printed by Mr. Clark and his wife Nancy. They will remind you of some item you’ve forgotten to purchase, or perhaps thought was off the market.
The point is you’re now at "Solemint," America’s unique country store. You enter to find yourself in a maze and a muddle of merchandise. You will stumble over nondescript piles of it at every turn while you read more sidesplitting advertisements in every conceivable spot. You will also see some autographed pictures of famous movie stars who have loitered here on their way to locations up and down the canyon. Hundreds of articles dangle from beamed rafters overhead. While you’re lingering to read the rest of those funny signs you’ll be buying numerous little items which they are reminding you of.
You might have a run in your stocking and just never thought of finding a nice pair here, but, up over the door is a reminder which says: "We carry hosiery for wives … we also have the more expensive kind."
Alfred L. Clark, owner of this unusual general store, is a man with vision and ambition. He is a middle-aged, quiet Southerner with a sense of humor and original ideas. He understands human nature and the part psychology plays in business. He said: "I gained my knowledge of stores as a clerk back in Tennessee. I always had a burning ambition to own my own store. But on a clerk’s salary it didn’t look like I’d get ahead enough to ever do it."
Mr. Clark’s wife Nancy is a Southerner, too. She has worked by his side, sharing the ups and downs. She says, while climbing nimbly to the topmost shelf for an item: "We used to have a lot of help, but since the war we are worked to death. We have only two clerks helping now."
The original store, seven years ago, had less than six hundred square feet of floor space and less than a thousand dollars worth of stock. It had no local village to draw trade from, and in those days there was not so much traffic up and down Mint Canyon Highway. But Mr. Clark says: "I saw my chance to own my store, and for less than a thousand dollars cash, and some credit, Solemint General Store was born.
"Some customers began to stop, but they usually asked for the very items I didn’t have. That gave me an idea. I knew I could get or order these articles from somewhere, so I asked them to stop on their return trips or let me mail those things to them. Then I made it a habit to keep a few of those unusual, or hard-to-get items in stock.
"Some old prospector might drop in and ask for a lantern, a stout rope, or maybe, of all things here, fishing tackle. I got them. Some ranches from way over in the hills might come in to get a coffee grinder, or a Dutch oven for his wife. Another might want an old-fashioned chamber mug that would harmonize with her bedroom scheme … I got them.
"These customers became my best friends. They did my advertising by telling their neighbors that they could get anything at my store. Then my slogan was born: ‘If you can’t get it anywhere else, try Solemint.’
"I always liked to handle merchandise when I went out to buy. So I put mine out where the customers could look it over and perhaps find some article they hadn’t intended buying. I found that it paid. Few country stores carry children’s toys the year round. I try to keep a good supply and place them where travel-worn children may fondle them … they become good little customers … So Nancy and I mix a little psychology with a little wit and we find that too pays.
"The last four years has brought the business to the point where we found it would pay to add a meat market, and a fresh vegetable and dairy counter. We’ve also added a novelty department. People like to buy souvenirs as they pass by."
That sign above your head might remind you that you’d like a bottle of fresh, sweet milk. It reads: "We sell milk, but we recommend mother’s milk for five reasons: 1st. It’s so fresh. 2nd. It’s easier to carry around. 3rd. It’s easier to take to picnics. 4th. The cat can’t get it. 5th. It comes in such cute containers."
Or you might feel in the need of a nice meal. You may step next door and get a good one, under city prices, while your car is being serviced at the filling station. All this belongs to Solemint’s service to the traveling public.
In addition to his work in the store Mr. Clark has found time to edit a humorous column for the Newhall Signal for the past two years. This he says he had to give up a few months ago because the store demanded too much of his time.
Mr. Clark does a strictly cash and transient business. From that thousand dollar beginning seven years ago he is taking in $160,000 a year. The floor space now covers more than 2,400 square feet. He says: "There’ll be some improvements after the war, but just now we’re too busy doing our part to win it to make definite plans." One of their favorite questions nowadays, asked of all and sundry, is: "Have you given any blood to the blood bank lately?"
Nancy and Alfred Clark are having a lot of fun seeing life as it rolls by their doors. They are content!