Two general stores have their place in history. The lower present photo was taken on the day of the Route 66 Race to the Rocker. Route 66 has been closed for the race, and the finish line sits on the road. Tents for the runners occupy the parking lot. The indoor archery ranges account for the length of the building.
Last weekend almost 900 runners raced 4-miles west on Route 66 from the historic Cuba, Mo area to the site of the Fanning US 66 General Store and the site of the World’s Largest Rocking Chair at Fanning, Missouri. It was a beautiful day and a combination of fun, inspiration, and fitness. Many photos were taken. One photo was Chad Dake’s aerial view of the the Fanning US 66 General Store that depicts the store’s signature attraction the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, as well as the taxidermy shop, and the nearby Fanning Feed Store, all owned by the Sanazaro family.
The Store Part I
The photo reminded me of another aerial view of the Fanning General Store and the small gas station next door in the heyday of Route 66. Sam and Mary Vitali owned the store and Mary’s brother Joe Bacialli owned the Speedway Garage next door. At one time, the Vitali’s store was located on the south side of the nearby railroad tracks. But when the new Highway 66 was paved across the tracks, the Vitalis and Mary’s brother Joe bought land on the north side of the tracks along the new road. Joe built the Speedway Garage to serve the travelers, and he built Mary and Sam what would be the Fanning General Store, which opened August 1, 1930, according to their daughter Louise Vitali Campbell in an article that she wrote for the Show Me Route 66 Fall Magazine in 1996.
In 1935, Joe remodeled the garage into the tavern Joe’s Place, where on Saturday night spaghetti was served and there would be dancing in the garage/tavern. Later Joe moved to St. Louis, and the business was leased under various names such as the Fanning Social Club and later became the Fanning Community Center until it fell into disuse.
The little general store served a little bit of everything from meat to feed. According to Louise, they sold groceries, clothing, buttons, as well as hammers and nails. Louise stated in her article, ” Mother made homemade cheese that was so good it became known across the state.” The family also had a couple acres of grapes that the three Vitali kids got 10 cents an hour to hoe.
Fanning also had a Post Office from 1930-1953. Louise remembered that her mom or dad would bag up the mail that people brought in and then take the bag across the tracks to hang on the crane for the train to “hook” as it went by. The Vitali home was attached to the store, and they raised Louise and her twin brothers Joe and Jim there.
Sam Vitali in 1947 hanging the mail bag for the train to snag on the way by. His daughter Louise said it was a spectacular sport to watch.
Times were tough during the depression, but Mary would feed the hobos that went by, and Sam would give the kids candy when their parents came by for the weekly groceries. Louise also remembered when gypsies would visit the store and her mother would tell them to go the back and hide because they would steal children.
Louise married Willard Campbell in 1947 and moved to Illinois, but they returned to Fanning in 1955, where their eight children grew up with wonderful memories of the store with their grandparents. Jim Vitali and his family also lived nearby in Fanning with their four children who were regulars at the store.Twin brother Joe and his family lived in Tulsa.
When Sam died in 1964, Mary ran the store by herself until 1972. Finally, they convinced her that it wasn’t safe for her to continue to operate her beloved store by herself. She closed the store in 1972, and moved in with her daughter Louise and her family. The Vitalis had run the Fanning Store for 42 years as part of their American Dream. Their children and grandchildren have many stories and warm memories of those days along Route 66 with Sam and Mary Vitali.
The Store Part II
The Fanning General Store was demolished in the 1980s. The Fanning Community building, once Joe’s Garage and Tavern, had been shuttered when Dan and Carolyn Sanazaro bought the property. Sanazaro decided to rehab the community building rather than tear down and start over, thus preserving a piece of Fanning history. Since he did not plan to operate as a gas station, he felt he needed something to attract people to stop. That’s when Sanazaro got the idea to build the World’s Largest Rocking Chair that has since been recognized by the Guinness organization. It was erected on April 1, 2008, and it has become the attraction that Sanazaro envisioned. It sits about where the original Fanning General Store did. In March it is the destination for the 4-mile Route 66 Race to the Rocker, which helps raise funds for local kids health/fitness projects. This year the event raised around $19,000 and drew over 800 racers.
Since 2008, the Sanazaros have built on to the community center by adding archery ranges so that they are now a four-plex Archery Center as well as general store. Dan’s nephew runs the Taxidermy Shop, and the Sanazaros have purchased Fanning Feed, just across the parking lot. The Sanazaros have two children who also lend a hand at the businesses.
Things are once more prospering along this stretch of Route 66 as they did during the days of the Vitalis. Community still gathers there, and travelers stop for a cold drink. People still sit on the front porch to visit. We can only imagine what the conversation would be if Sam Vitali would sit with Dan Sanazaro on the porch of the present general store: two businessmen with an Italian-Catholic heritage discussing running a store and raising families. Sam could tell him about hanging the mail for the train. Dan could tell him about building that rocker. They could both laugh about all those people running 4-miles from town. And the cars on Route 66 would roll on.
In 1947 Marina Espen and Louise Vitali pose in front of the Fanning sign along Route 66.
For more about the Fanning US 66 Outpost General Store and the World’s Largest Rocking Chair go here.