The Trading Post: A LaBelle Memory

LABELLE — Mention the name Trading Post to anyone in LaBelle over the age of 60, or who looks old, and you will hear them say, “I knew it.” That’s because the Trading Post was the Walmart of LaBelle from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. The Trading Post was a longtime fixture on the corner of State Road 80 and Main Street, in LaBelle.

Although gone in fact, it is not gone in memory. Many LaBelle-ites remember the fixture. I know, I asked them. I had coffee one morning with the founder’s son, Danny Davis, at his home in Muse, as his pet peacocks walked among us, observing, along with his five cats and a quiet African grey who, Davis advised, will not be quiet after I leave. Davis told me the history of his father’s business, a monument to the life and history of LaBelle.

Merle Davis is pictured in front of the original Trading Post.

According to Davis, his dad, Merle Davis, started the business out of his 1929 Model A truck selling peanuts and cold beverages to sawmill workers who worked near Davis’ home behind K&M Pharmacy on SR 80. A few years later, saving his money, Merle Davis and Danny Davis’ uncle built the Trading Post. They borrowed no money from the bank or government agency. Starting a business was different then.

Davis recalled, as a child, families coming to the Trading Post on weekends. The women were seeking patterns to buy to make clothes. Davis remembered the ladies dressed well, had their hair well groomed. Their husbands would come wearing cowboy hats and go across SR 80 to the tavern, have a drink and talk. Coming to the Trading Post on weekends was a social affair as much as a shopping visit.

The Seminole Indians would shop at the Trading Post, too. Davis remembered they would come late at night, long after the Post had closed, sleep outside, and then start shopping in the morning when the doors opened.

The Trading Post changed hands in 1970 when Merle sold the Post to his daughter, Martha. Danny Davis was not in the business; he made his living as a tugboat captain. His sister held on to the business until the 1980s when she decided to close its doors. Why? Business wasn’t the same.

The Trading Post is a well known icon in LaBelle. LaBelle families born and raised here remember it well. The corner that housed the Trading Post is silent now. Occupying the corner are empty buildings unrelated to the Trading Post and its history. Despite the emptiness of the buildings on the corner of Highway 80 and Main, memory speaks to those individuals that remember the Trading Post, the socializing, in a time of life that was simpler, quieter, and with greater boundaries of how to live.

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