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The neighborhood grocery store

October 1, 2010

My View from the Pilot house By Mike Boys Pilot News Consultant
Published July 16, 2009
At one time, during the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s, neighborhood grocery stores were plentiful and were within walking distance as they were designed to blend in with the neighborhood and specialized in serving their needs. Some of them were homes that maybe had one or two rooms devoted to the grocery business. It was the “convenience store” of its time.
They knew you, because you were their neighbor and they treated you well. Some even gave credit. These neighborhood stores were a place to take items like lard, tin cans, and glass soft drink bottles for which you either got bonus ration stamps or money, or it was applied to your credit. At some of the stores you would give them a list of items you wanted and they would get them for you or you could order items over the phone and send one of your kids to pick them up. It was a good and honest relationship with the store owners and the neighborhood.
All of those neighborhood groceries are gone now, except one. The store was originally built in 1955 by Robert Hiester and he called it “Hiester’s Superette.” It is situated on the corner of North Fifth and Madison Streets. It’s next owner was Keith Wickens and he called it “Wickens’ Superette” then it was sold and called the “T & T Grocery” as its owners were Terry & Theresa Long then it was sold again an called “A & B Foods” its owners being Alice and Bob Lacefield. Its current owners are Steve and Sherry Hann and they call it “The Little Store.”
Let’s take a look at what some of these grocery stores looked like. For some of you it will be a nostalgic trip, but for you younger folks a piece of history.
THE BUILDING
Some stores would be considered very small by today’s standards. Generally they were 20 to 30 feet wide and 40 to 60 feet deep. They had wooden floors, which were well oiled, and some were cement slabs. I remember one mom and pop grocery (Flora’s Grocery) at 322 S. Walnut St. which was a former living room of a very caring couple who lived in the rest of the house. That store was on my paper route and was an oasis on hot summer days when I would buy a coke to cool off and rest. In the winter, when the snow and cold wind was blowing, it was a place to warm up and have a candy bar and chat with Henry and Carrie Flora.
THE MEAT COUNTER
Most stores had a meat case and a butcher block which was generally situated in the back of the store which also served as a deli counter. Some of the store owners specialty was great meat. I remember one in particular, the “South Side Grocery,” which we called the “little store” where Ted Fanning and his wife owned the store. About three or four times a year he would mix up fresh bulk sausage then he would call his customers and they would order ahead and in a couple of weeks he would have it ready. MMMMMMM was that good.
Some of these stores had few choices of cuts, but they would cut whatever you wanted. They always had hamburger which was ground on site, bologna, hot dogs with the skins on, pork chops, pork tenderloin, home ground bulk sausage, round and Swiss steak. Oh, yeah, they also had several choices of cheese.
THE BREAD COUNTER
The bread counters were stocked with locally baked breads from bakery’s situated in near-by cities. We didn’t have many choices of bread, but we could choose from white or whole wheat. Hot dog and hamburger buns were also available. Once in a while you could find cinnamon and powdered sugar donuts in a box by the dozen.
THE CANNED GOODS and GENERAL GROCERIES
Canned goods from Stokley, Van Camp, Dole, Del Monte, Libby’s, Campbell’s Soup, Armour and other brands were stocked on the shelves. They didn’t have much room, so they were limited as to how many they could put on the shelves at one time. They had seasonal fresh vegetables and fruit, some of which they put outside in baskets. However, there wasn’t much of a demand for vegetables as many raised their own. Fruit, however, was popular. Candy counters were always popular with the kids, and they always had plenty of penny candy. Coffee, milk, eggs, and potato chips were also available, but again, not in a large quantity. Ice cream, popsicles, fudge bars and Eskimo Pies were basically the frozen items.
They had one person at the checkout counter and it was usually located at the front of the store by the entrance door and they generally had a manually operated cash register.
Neighborhood grocery stores I remember:
1.Baker’s Food Shop, 610 E. Jefferson St.(Now a business)
2.Broadway Food Market. . . 199 Broadway St.(Now a vacant lot)
3.Dolan’s Grocery 615 W. Jefferson St.(Now a business strip)
4.Flora’s Grocery, 322 S. Walnut St.(Now a residence)
5.Fruit’s West End Grocery. 913 Lake Ave (Now a vacant lot)
6.Henry’s Serv-U, 1400 N. Michigan (Now a dry cleaning business)
7.Hiester’s Superette, 529 N. Fifth St.(The only neighborhood store left in Plymouth)
8.Hoy’s Grocery, 825 N. Center St.(Now a commercial business)
9.Lake Avenue Food Market, 708 Lake Ave (Now a commercial business)
10.Samuel’s Cottage Grocery, 101 N. Liberty St.(Now a residence)
11.Sanders’ Grocery, 416 Miner St.(Now a residence)
12.Sanford’s Grocery & Mkt., 826 N. Michigan St. (Now a residence)
13.South Side Grocery, 200 Dixon St.(Now a vacant lot)
14.Xaver’s Grocery, 400 W. Jefferson St. (Now a vacant lot)
Well, there are probably more neighborhood stores on your grocery list, but this is all that I remember or could find. I hope you were able to get everything from your favorite neighborhood store. I know I did.
Well, that’s it for now. . . so until next time . . . this is my view from the Pilot house.

Mike Boys is a lifelong Marshall County resident, former newspaper owner and former public officeholder. The dictionary defines a Pilot House as “an enclosed area on the bridge of a ship, from which the vessel is guided.” His views, opinions and news appear Fridays on the Pilot News Opinion page. To contact Mr. Boys online, e-mail mboys@thepilotnews.com.

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