THE HISTORIC PRICE RITE ON WAUKOMIS
Childhood memories walk through the door of The Little Store each day. Customers share their experiences with owners Jeannine and Santo Smiroldo at their business, also known as Price Rite Market and Deli at 6400 N.W. Waukomis Dr., Kansas City in Platte County.
The couple, who purchased the abandoned, one-story wooden building in 2014, are constantly reminded of the store’s historical significance to those who venture inside.
“We think about it (the history) and talk about it all the time,” Santo said during a recent interview at the business. He said while many customers are repeat (visiting several times each week), some haven’t crossed the original, rustic front porch and stepped onto the original wooden floors since childhood.
Some tell the Smiroldos they happen to be in the area visiting from elsewhere and “just want to see if it is still there,” Santo said.
The area is reminiscent of a by-gone time when small, community general stores dotted the landscape. What makes this Platte County area different is the store was restored to an earlier function, reinventing its use as a small corner store in today’s culture dominated by on-line sales.
The building was constructed in the early 1900s, according to Kenneth Klamm of the Platte County Historical Society, who retrieved early county records to document the area’s history.
During Martha Noland’s childhood, in the 1930s and 40s, the building served as a private home, according to Martha Noland, who’s nearly 100 years old and remembers accompanying her father to make milk deliveries to another nearby small store. Jeannine said their store was a private residence in the back, but the front operated as a feed store. Noland’s father, who immigrated to Platte County with his parents from Germany, owned and operated nearby Brenner Dairy.
He wasn’t mechanically inclined, so he sometimes delivered milk from a horse and buggy, Noland said. “I loved to go with him. I could spend my pennies for candy,” she said, adding that her favorite was tiny wax doll figures filled with sweet liquid. A railroad line carried passengers from downtown to Riverside and through the area, then known as Northern Heights, and St. Joseph, making several stops along the route. Passengers stopped at popular Line Creek, located behind the present store building, and used by local children as an ice-skating rink in the winter and a swimming hole and car wash in the summers, she said during a telephone interview.
The lifelong Platte County resident remembered the train stopped at Riverside, which had a horse track at the time, which Noland said is popularly known as having been built by associates of the Tom Pendergast political machine of the 1930s.
People who lived near small stores such as the Price Rite mostly walked to the nearest store and relied on the inventory to round out their family’s food (what they didn’t grow or slaughter) and also to purchase feed for their livestock.
“People did a lot of canning, so there was not a big supply of canned goods,” Noland said.
That was before large, corporate grocery stores took over and squeezed out their small, family-owned counterparts. That’s why by the time today’s local customers were children 40 to 60 years ago, the store carried only non-perishables and childhood favorites of candy, other snacks, and soda. It catered to local children, who ventured there on foot or by bicycle during nice weather after school during the summertime.
Jeannine said she and her own four children visited the store several times when her children were young, and she remembers the scant, child-themed inventory of snacks and other non-necessities the store carried.
Jeannine said the love of the community adds to their experience as owners.
“It’s a great community,” she said. “Everybody watches out for each other,” she said. “We get a phone call from a neighbor before the alarm company,” she said of the occasional alarm calls.
The store’s history was colorful in other ways. An armed robbery resulted in murder in 1977 on the property, according to Klamm who found the information in county records. Friends Cody Higgins and Eddie Bowman were searching for an out-of-the-way place Higgins could rob without being detected. The pair ended up at Price Rite, where Higgins demanded money from the clerk, Donna Parshall. After she refused twice, he shot and killed her, then took $140 from the register. As he was leaving, he encountered an older man entering the store and he told him to “stay back.” Higgins was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, according to a website.
The Smiroldos have their own history, mostly in the grocery business in Kansas City. Santo’s Italian immigrant grandparents settled in Kansas City’s North end and eventually established local grocery and liquor stores, Santo said. He learned the grocery business as a child, first working after school, stocking shelves and refrigerators.
Santo attributes his work ethic, which includes stocking, ordering, and helping customers every day, to his father, also a lifelong store owner.
“I work seven days a week,” Santo said. “That’s just the way it is. I’ve done it my whole life.”
Customers know Santo’s 81-year-old father as Pops, and the couple’s children also have worked in the business sometime during their lives. A son operates another store they own in North Kansas City. But Price Rite is the family’s gathering place. That’s why Pops, also named Santo, tells others his job is the best because he gets to see his son and grandchildren at work.
But the store’s draw is not all historical. Donna Davenport, who lives nearby and works at an area senior center, said she’s such a fan that she’s a daily customer, purchasing eggs and fresh produce. “It’s better than going to Hy-Vee,” she said. “I love this place,” she said, calling it “a hidden gem.”
Jeannine said it’s a popular refrain. “A lot of our customers tell us we feel like family,” she said, as she worked behind the register ringing up customers’ orders.
Others who frequent the store tout its ready-to-eat fare such as the pizza and breakfast burritos they’re especially known for, but also the hot sandwiches and appetizers on the menu. Daily specials include chicken fried steak and tacos.
Mark Valentine, who coaches hockey at a nearby rink, said he stops there two to three times a week while in the area. He said, “I haven’t had a thing yet that I didn’t like.”