Crane’s: Drawing on the past, focused on the future

By Nathan Lilley, General Manager
Posted 6/11/23

Morning suited Williamsburg well as a chilly mist flirted with a late spring freeze hovered in the air. Mingling with the vapors was a lacy smoke just a few feet overhead as folks walked the main …

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Crane’s: Drawing on the past, focused on the future


Morning suited Williamsburg well as a chilly mist flirted with a late spring freeze hovered in the air. Mingling with the vapors was a lacy smoke just a few feet overhead as folks walked the main street, to file into the town’s center of commerce.

Crane’s Store. 

It’s a place that’s been a Callaway County fixture a long time. Inside, a potbelly stove provides warmth and the fitting - almost alluring - scents that Crane’s regulars have come to associate with the store. And with good reason, as its origins date back to its early days.

“My dad said it’s been here since the early 1930s,” said David Crane, store owner. “Ever since he could remember.”

It’s a Magic #24 model for anyone wanting one of their own. Burning hot on cold days, it’s one of the abundant icons found at Crane’s, once fueled by coal. Today, it’s fired up in the morning, with flames blazing until the close of the business day. No longer reliant on coal, today oak and walnut logs are the favored methods.

And that’s just the stove. Inside, Crane’s emits a welcoming fragrance, a blending of history, merchandise and fire. It’s a smell that’s been explained as everything from oaky dust, to tobacco and chocolate. And some customers have suggested it be captured and marketed in candle form. To those: There’s some good news, as a Crane’s candle is in the works.

Around the store is an impressive mix of name brands that aren’t easily found in Smalltown America, or Downtown America, for that matter. There’s Case, Pendleton, Otterbox, Browning, Carhartt, Filson and Normal Brand, to name a few. As their website puts it, Crane’s has “goods for the modern-day pioneer.” That’s an apt summary as the general store offers room after room of items that exude a definite culture. Sweaters, boots, knives, guns - or as their road signs herald, “Boots bullets, britches, bologna.”

Yes, bologna.

It draws as many visitors as anything.

“Ever since there was lunch meat we have served sandwiches,” Crane said. “In the beginning they were one meat, one cheese, one dollar, on white bread.”

Today, most sandwiches are $2, a price change that came about 16 years ago. Options? Bologna, chopped ham, old fashioned loaf and cotto salami. Want PB&J? They have it, and are still priced at the aforementioned dollar. Sandwiches are served in the heart of the store, which also hosts other grocery items, the store and footwear. Wreathing the ceiling are blasts from the past, reflective of the store’s rich history - and the family’s penchant for auctions and antiques. But make no mistake, Crane’s is more than a time capsule. It still offers gasoline and an electric car charging station is in the works.

Before his days as the store’s owner, a young David Crane would be enlisted by his Grandma Crane, who paid a nickel for each fly he extricated.  He’d also have some time to mingle.

“I’d come up here and drink a soda with the old guys,” he recalls.

The North Callaway High School and Westiminster alum had a stint with QuikTrip after graduating college, but would ultimately return to the family business in 1995. His service would overlap with that of his parents, Joe and Marlene, who were proprietors from 1983 to 2016. 

“We’ve changed quite a bit since ‘95,” he said.

Crane draws from his merchandising background, which is evident throughout the store and plays a key role in its continued ability to attract folks to Williamsburg. He keeps an eye out for products that will be a good fit, attending shows to stay abreast of what’s new. He also monitors social media and his experience as a Boy Scout leader also provides insights. 

Customers come from near and far to shop, with a healthy St. Louis contingency in the mix.

“We see a broad swath of the world,” Crane said.

That includes “The Liars Club”, with beginnings in 2010, which draws eight to 16 ‘members’ each Thursday.

“We try to be the gathering place - a ‘community center’ for the local community,” said Crane. He also takes pride in “carrying on the tradition of a general store, while always trying to improve.”

That includes capital improvements, with new restrooms being added and the structure’s undercarriage being shored up to alleviate some “warpage”, as Crane puts it.  That’s something that can happen, considering the current store opened in 1926. Complemented by its website, the goal is to continue to provide a classic experience.

“Finding great, classic products, combined with quality new items, and displaying them in one place” is a big part of that continued effort - and continued success, according to Crane. 

With roots dating back to 1889, David Crane and company carry on a tradition that has persevered through the many trials of time. For anyone who hasn’t been for a while, it’s worth the drive.

Crane’s Country Store is located at 10675 Old U.S. Highway 40, just a stone’s throw away from I-70 in Williamsburg, Mo., with its population of about 60 people. It’s open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is closed Sunday.