FOR MANY YEARS, “going to the store” in Esto meant going to Wells Grocery. It was the heart of our little town. Nearly everybody would stop by before noon to pick up the mail. No day was complete without a cold drink and a visit with proprietor Jeanette Wells.

The charge accounts in her general store called the roll of our little town. Some were never paid. But no one went hungry or without love when Jeanette was with us. She was laid to rest in the Esto cemetery this afternoon. If she didn’t get to heaven, no one will.


Most business at Wells Grocery was done on credit.

The new Dollar General store in on Highway 79 in the heart of Esto.

The new Dollar General store is on Highway 79 in the heart of Esto.

NEWS FLASH: A new store has opened in Esto. Other than a handful of grocery stores and gas stations, this is the first commercial establishment in Esto since the days of the “old brick stores” by the railroad tracks 100 years ago.

Photographs by Sara Heijkoop

The Birmingham News

C. R. “COTTONTOP” REYNOLDS, who operates a store in Esto, has happily worked out a personal solution for Alabama’s high tobacco tax, Florida’s high gasoline tax, bone-dry Geneva County’s ban on beer and liquors — not to forget Alabama’s sales tax.

But like a lot of good things, there’s a catch to it as far as other Alabama merchants are concerned. It will only work where establishments are similarly situated. You see, Reynolds’ store happens to be located squarely on the Alabama-Florida state line. Half of the store is in Alabama and half in Florida.

The official state line marker stood just outside C. R. Reynolds' store.

Under his arrangement, customers entering through a door on the Alabama side take a seat and drink beer or liquor from a counter carefully located three inches over on the Florida side.

As Reynolds keeps his stock on the Florida side, he doesn’t have to worry about or pay sales tax. Standard brands of cigarettes sell two packages for 25 cents and tobaccos of all kinds in this store are cheaper than they are in another one across the highway in Alabama.

Customers dropping by to dance put their money in a rock-ola in Florida and dance on a floor in Alabama.

But for one item Reynolds prefers Alabama. That’s the matter of gasoline. With his pump located on the north side of the line, he can sell gasoline one cent cheaper than he could if he moved it across into Florida.

The reason Reynolds is so sure he can take advantage of his unique location is because the official state-line marker is located just outside his building and if it came to a matter of proving anything he could resort to a yardstick.

The only difficulty about the whole setup, Reynolds says, is that you can never feel that your store arrangement is permanent. You can never tell when they’ll change a state law is one of the states making it more profitable to move into the other one.

“But we don’t worry much,” he added. “It’s just a matter of shifting things around in the store to fit the situation.”