The memory of being enveloped by the musky smell of his grandfather’s cigar while snuggling in the older man’s lap prompted Pennsylvania pastor Bob Greenwood to purchase an old tobacco tin he saw at a flea market. “My grandfather smoked Prince Albert,” he recalls. “The tin reminded me of him.” But Bob quickly found he had an appreciation for the lithographs, or artwork, on the tins, so he purchased more.
As his collection grew, a friend suggested he purchase a display case. One thing led to another and now, a decade later, he has an entire general store packed into the basement of the Cape Cod-style home he shares with his wife, June, in Souderton, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
The collection of antiquities is not too far removed from his day-to-day life as a collector of souls for Jesus. “I was a member of the New Life Community Grace Brethren Church and God called me out to lead the congregation,” he recalls.
“I focus on turn of the (20th) century general store items,” says Greenwood, who began pastoring the Souderton church six years ago following a career in the military and with the U.S. government. In his basement one will find a variety of marketing and mercantile memorabilia, from laundry soap and baking supplies to sleds and post office equipment.
“It was a simpler time with no computers, cell phones, radio or TV, no fax machines,” he says as he consider why he enjoys collecting things from that era. “Yet, somehow, people got things done,” he adds.
The “general store” in his basement is complete with a potbelly stove and the counters and glass cases one would find in an early 20th century business. “Keep in mind,” he notes, “that early stores were heated with coal. The early manufacturers insisted that their products be kept under glass so they wouldn’t be covered with coal dust.”
His collection is a result of forays on the Internet and at estate and specialty auctions. He says he was an early participant in eBay, the online auction house. Although he no longer actively sells items through the site, photos of his shop may still be viewed there.
June, to whom he has been married 39 years, is also supportive of his hobby; although he confesses it took her awhile to warm to the idea. “She saw that I enjoyed going to auctions and seeing all the people, the atmosphere, and things of a by-gone generation,” Bob says. “Now she enjoys it more because she understands why I do it.”
Bob’s “store under the floor” has attracted the attention of historians and collectors alike. In 2004, it was featured on Home and Garden Television’s “Collector Inspector,” with host Harry Rinker. The six-minute clip took all day to film, according to Bob.
He particularly enjoys sharing the collection with school children. “Young kids know nothing of this lifestyle,” he notes, stressing that he likes to encourage people to slow down. “In that era, people went to the post office not just to get the mail or purchase groceries, they went to see friends or play a game of checkers by the pot belly stove.”
Guests are welcome to tour his collection by appointment. The only admission is a Bible, such as one they are no longer using. Those he donates to the North Hampton County Prison in Easton, Pa., where the Souderton church has a prison ministry.
He describes the Souderton congregation as “casual about dress but serious about God.” Located less than two miles from their mother congregation, the Penn Valley Grace Brethren Church, the New Life Community GBC moved into their own building four years ago after renting meeting facilities for nearly 13 years.
And they found their own “collectible” of sorts