Mystery Photo: The J.B. Murphy Store

This faded old photo of the J.B. Murphy store, offering "Groceries and Notions," keeps drifting around the Internet, occasionally turning up on various Facebook groups devoted to local history, and it's a puzzle.

Because all too often it is identified as a store located on Main Street in Memphis.

Well, I don't think so.

First of all, the city directories I've looked through don't list a "J.B. Murphy" or any similarly named person or establishment in the late 1880s or early 1990s. But just look at the store itself, and its surroundings. Memphis at the turn of the last century (oh, I hate that expression: "last" century) was a thriving metropolis, with paved streets, streetcars, electric lights, and tall buildings.

This certainly looks like a country store, not something you'd find in downtown Memphis.

I do like all the signs plastered on the front, for such soft-drinks as Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Gay-Ola (a drink with the simple slogan, "It's Better). There's also a sign for something called Jersey Cream and two signs, mounted vertically promoting "Celluloid" but I can't make out the next line, so celluloid WHAT?

And you know what else I like? The fact that the sign painter put a neat triangle-shaped period after the "J" and the "B" and then another period after word "NOTIONS."

Nice touch.

Now, where was this place?

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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