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January 21, 2009 > History: Grocery Stores

History: Grocery Stores

Our pioneer business directories include hotels, blacksmith shops, saloons, butcher shops, and bakeries, but grocery stores are not often listed. Groceries were usually available only at general merchandise stores. Products offered by the pioneer General Store of E. L. Beard in a mission adobe included: tea, sugar, flour, lard, coffee, canned sardines and oysters, potatoes, bottled olive oil, honey, rice, crackers, butter and vinegar. This store and others that followed made Mission San Jose a leader in the grocery business.

Mission San Jose appears to be the first local town to use the word "groceries" in a business directory. An 1867 directory lists J. Munos and Max Sigrist as merchants who sold "groceries and provisions." J. P. Chamberlin and others advertised groceries in the 1870's, and by 1890 Gideon L. Merritt was listed as "a grocer."

Grocery advertisers in 1900 included J. Herrscher in Centerville, O. N. Hirsch & Co. in Irvington and Ellis Bros. and Wm. Snyder in Niles. Mason & Gomes began selling general merchandise in Niles and in 1909 added "Groceries, fruit, produce, etc." Murphy & Briscoe sold groceries and bought "all kinds of produce."

Niles has had a variety of grocery stores. L. J. Trinchero offered "eatables at the lowest prices" in 1924. In 1927 they sold eggs at 35 cents a dozen and Kellog's Corn Flakes at 5 cents a package. Duarte's Cash Grocery was in the Easterday building in 1912 advertising "both necessities and luxuries within your reach." Also known as Duarte's Grocerteria and Duarte's Cash & Carry, the business moved into the Martin Building in 1930. Manuel Duarte opened a new grocery in the Murphy-Briscoe building in 1942. Safeway sold tomato soup, deviled ham, vinegar, olives and Jell-Well for 5 cents in 1932. Niles had five groceries in 1940 but was down to three in 1941 when one was closed and Safeway was replaced by the Rite Price Market in 1941.

The most famous grocery store in Newark was that of M. D. Silva. He was described as a "pioneer merchant who kept a big stack of goods." In the late 30's Paul Gygax operated the Stop and Shop. Many years later a more modern Stop and Shop was opened across the street from the Silva store on Thornton Ave.

Holland's Food Store in Centerville was offering Green Stamps for extra savings in 1944. Jack Holland sold his business to George and William Gong in 1946. Centerville grocery stores in 1947 included the Gong Brothers Food Market, the Excelsior Bakery and Grocery, the Victory Market, the Red and White, and the only Safeway store in Washington Township.

Wes Hammond wrote that Irvington had four grocery stores in the 1930's and 1940's. The Hirsch Grocery Store was owned by Otto and Allan Hirsch. The K. F. Reynolds Grocery Store was owned by Henry Weston and was attached to the post office building. The others were Leal's Grocery owned by Vernon Leal and the Silva Grocery.

Pioneer Alvarado stores that sold groceries include M. R. Lyle & Co. and the
R&H Cash Store. The Decoto Bakery & Grocery was advertised in 1928. The "last of the old general merchandise stores in the township" was reported to be that of J. L. Olsen in Decoto.

Prior to the coming of the supermarket, grocers offered staples for the most part, while perishables were acquired by other means. For example, a morning visit by the milkman leaving glass bottles of milk and taking the returned empties was the norm in most areas. Bread meant a visit to the bakery or a box on the front porch to be filled by the bread man when he made his rounds. Meat involved a visit to the butcher or in some cases, a call to the meat market for home delivery. At times, fish and vegetable vendors drove their trucks through neighborhoods seeking customers.

The entire shopping process was time consuming. A typical grocery store of the 20's and 30's featured a large counter with a scale at one end, a large roll of wrapping paper, a string dispenser and scissors. To purchase a pound of cheese, for example, the customer stood at the counter while the clerk walked to the cheese table, cut off a chunk with a large knife, weighed it on the scale, tore off a piece of paper and wrapped it carefully, then pulled a long piece of string, tied the package neatly and wrote up the item on the receipt slip.

Frank Duarte opened his $30,000 Niles Super Market in 1948. It was described as "a contrast to the old-time grocery, a challenge to the rest of the Township and an ideal of what a market should be." This marked the beginning of self-service, shopping carts and a greater variety of choice with which to fill them.

The 1956 Shopper's Guide listed 20 retail grocery markets for Fremont. Centerville had its Food, Lucky, Safeway, Thrifty Mart, U-Save, and Victory markets. Niles had its Garden Basket, Perez Bros. and Leask's, M&R Thrift, New City, and Duarte's Super Markets. Irvington had the White House, Pic & Pac and the Irvington Food and Mission Way Markets. Mission San Jose had only the Pioneer and Freeman's Markets and Warm Springs, its Warm Springs Market.

The modern supermarket is a marked contrast to the old-time grocery where most things were sold in bulk. No longer do we stand at the counter and order vinegar and sugar from barrels or wait for the clerk to bring the items from the shelves. Now we choose packaged and refrigerated items and stand trembling with credit card in hand and mounting concern as a computer calculates our debt.

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