Historic store remembered

MOSS RUN, Ohio -Before there was Wal-Mart, there was Biehl’s Store that had everything from soup to nuts to auto parts and gasoline.

Located 11 miles from Marietta on Ohio 26, the store sits along the road cloaked in dark brown wood from years of weathering.

Not much is available for sale these days. The store closed in October 1993 and most of the goods and items were sold at auction soon after that.

But Dick and Martha Biehl, 81 and 82 respectively, still own the building, and most mornings they’re inside, listening to classic country music. Sometimes, residents stop by and chat with the Biehls. They said they linger until almost lunchtime and get busy with errands, mowing and whatever they need to do.

“We just had everything, just like Walmart, only smaller,” Dick Biehl said. “Most old stores like this have been torn down or done away with.”

The Biehls might have thought they knew every square inch of the place after owning it for a few decades until recently.

Their 15-year-old grandson, Jarrod Almond, 15, of Reno, discovered a stash of mail from around the turn of the 20th century stuffed in a corner, between the wall and the mailboxes used in the days when the store also served as a post office.

“I didn’t know there was that many back there,” Jarrod said. “There was one sticking out and it kept coming out as I pulled it.”

What he found was about 20 pieces of mail, including postcards, advertisements, letters, bills and a receipt book with only the stubs remaining, much of the paper crumbling with age. One receipt was written to H.P. Bode for $18.89 for taxes on June 26, 1899.

One letter dated Oct. 21, 1899, asks the owner, Mr. J.S. McGowan: “Would you please send me the Bill of the things that was bought of yours for Mother’s Funeral. I will pay it. Very Yours Respectfully, W.G. Britton, Box 785, Chagrin Falls, Oh.”

Ike McGowan built the store in 1860 and sold dry goods and groceries. A funeral parlor operated from the back of the building.

Dick Biehl said he thought a store existed before 1860, but it might have been washed away in a flood. In the early decades of the store, Dick said, the mail was carried on horseback to the store, where it would be passed to another rider to carry it farther.

His parents, Delbert and Martha Biehl, bought the store in 1921. He was born into the business and started helping out when he was 10. He helped run the store at age 18.

Dick also served 20 years as a Lawrence Township trustee and ran a 150-acre farm. When he was busy elsewhere, Martha would be in charge. She said she liked working in the store when she had to.

“She’d take over when I was a trustee or farming,” Dick said. “A place like this takes the whole family to run it, pretty near.”

He said he took out the gas pumps in 1990 because it would have cost $25,000 to replace them, and gasoline was less expensive in town anyway.

“I figured I would close anyway when I turned 65,” Dick said. “After 44 years, I’d never had a day off, and for 24 years, I’d never had a Sunday off. After 16 hours a day (during all those years), you get tired.”

When the gas pumps went out, business at Biehl’s Store took a nosedive.

For groceries, Dick said, people thought the big stores in town were less expensive when it came to buying meat, cheese and produce.

“(The store) is going to sit here,” Dick said. “Somebody will do something with it. Somebody can use it as a second-hand store. They can tear it down or burn it down.”