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General store, checkers

The General Store also served as a gathering place, where people could sit around the stove, swap yarns, play games, share news, or spread gossip. Often the crowd gathered around a cracker barrel. According to Eric Sloane:
The old time country store had a lot more than merchandise. There was a big pot-bellied stove, and a barrel of common crackers within reach of whoever had the time for chatting and a liking for the warmth of a hickory fire. With that kind of surroundings, a fellow could spin yarns or just listen, as well as get to meet everyone in town and hear a lot of different opinions. (The Cracker Barrel, p. iii.)
Barreling crackers started as an advertising scheme. The first big cracker companies placed a barrel of their wares for free sampling in New England country stores. But later the country storekeeper carried on the custom and soon a barrel of crackers was always to be found near the stove during the cold months. The cracker barrel had become part of the American scene. (The Second Barrel, p. 4.)