Ray Weekly with Harry Crouch.
by Susan W. Showalter
at Pike's Peak
photo by Susan W. Showalter
Fall color always brings tons of tourists to Brown County retail establishments in October but long after the leaves are down and the tourists head home, one country market in Van Buren Township still bustles with customers. Crouch’s Market, owned 33 years by Norma and Harry Crouch, is a meeting and eating place for neighbors and hunters who frequent Pikes Peak each November when hunting season is in full swing.
“Times have changed. You don’t have your young hunters anymore. You still have the die-hards, but not like you used to,” said Norma. “It used to be that old hunters would stick around and tell stories but now they are in a hurry.”
Besides groceries and gasoline, Norma sells hunting licenses online, sporting goods and checks in game killed. She also rents videos and offers free guides that specify dates for hunting and trapping in each Indiana county.
Married for 45 years, this interesting couple has been featured in books about grocery stores in Indiana and on the PBS television program, Across Indiana. I first came to know the Crouches when I settled in Van Buren Township 1972. We bought our goat, horse and chicken feed at their Wayne Feed Dealership and bait shop. At that time two saw-horses with a board across them served as a counter and there were no doors on the market which was also Harry’s gravel-floored garage.
“We are the fourth grocery in Pikes Peak,” said Norma who has gradually taken on more of the responsibilities for the growing and thriving store. “The first was where Lutes live now. There was another one that had a post office, a seamstress and it even carried tools. Then Eleanor Clark had her store. We opened here after talking to Eleanor. We sold produce in summer but people wanted more items. Initially we only planned to have feed, bait and the video games but kids asked for something to eat. You have to listen to your customers and we did.”
Crouches made more room for groceries. They moved in tables where people eat and even have meetings. Stop the Objectionable Pipeline (S.T.O.P.), a grass roots community organization to fight the clear-cutting of forest through the neighborhood and Brown County, was founded there in 1986.
These days, folks stop in for the daily plate lunch specials. Diners eat in the back room decorated with plaques painted on by local artist Rhonda Gaines. Framed news articles, historical photos and photos of hunters taken each year adorn the other walls.
“We come to Crouch’s almost daily,” said Mike Wood who lives on Grandview Road with his wife Diane. “We like the atmosphere and the personal touch. We call it the mall…they have everything you can want! It is so convenient.”
Keith Loomis, a Clay Lick Road resident who works at the nearby Schuster Glass Studio making flat and blown glass, comes in often to buy fire wood used daily when his family sits outside having dinner around the fire. But the most distinctive items in the market are the one of a kind handcrafted and signed Harra’s Hiking Sticks made by Harry Crouch.
“This is a centuries old art and most wood I usewalnut, cherry, just about anythingcomes from the farm,” said Harry who started making the sticks in 2000 when he was ill. “Walnut and cherry can be finished with oil. The others have to be stained and finished with polyurethane. Oaks and ash are the strongest.”
The walking sticks, priced from $19 to $150, are artfully decorated, sometimes with coins and/or wood burned designs.
“I use some of my father’s hand tools purchased originally in about 1920,” said Harry smiling. “His blacksmith’s shop stood right across the road where mother and dad settled in 1921 on a small piece of ground that they added to until they had 80 acres. Dad, who died in 1941, was a very good craftsman.”
Harry collected other tools at auctions to use in his stick making. He also uses a rare adjustable handle draw-knife that he found at a flea market.
“Each stick has its own individuality,” said Harry who has made about 400 sticks. “When you start, you really don’t know what it is going to be. I have a high as 40 hours in some of the canes. People look at them and don’t realize the time that goes into a handmade product. It’s very interesting and satisfying but not very profitable.” Harry grins. “But, at this stage, who cares about the profit?”
For more information about Crouch’s Market, which is open daily and located on Bellsville Pike, call 812-988-7203. Or, better yet, stop by for a visit and check out Harry’s walking sticks located just inside the front door.