Recalling some of those groceries of the past

Published 9:03 am Friday, February 13, 2009

As promised in my column on Jan. 23, here are more nostalgia nudges from Richard A. Jensen who now lives in Edina. And this time the topic is based on his listing of Albert Lea grocery stores back in 1936.

In his letter Dick wrote, “My working time in Albert Lea started in 1937 part time while going to school at C. Thomas on West Clark Street which later on moved to Newton Avenue next to Midway Motor. The first manager was Bill Kramer, and later Jack Oothoudt who later on owned with Boyd DeMalignon, Boyd and Jack’s. After World War II I worked as a salesman for Western Grocer — Jack Sprat Foods — from 1946 to 1951, until joining Mobil Oil Co. — then called Socony Vacuum Oil Co.”

Years ago I wrote an article, complete with a photo, about the C. Thomas store on Newton Avenue. What made this particular grocery store really different were the indoor parking stalls. That’s right, there was an entry off Newton Avenue which led to an indoor parking area for customers’ vehicles. The exit, I believe, was out of the building onto the alley. (The American Bank is now at this location.)

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Dick divided his listing of Albert Lea grocery stores back in 1936 by their locations around the city. Thus, on Clark Street and west of Broadway Avenue were the C. Thomas store (as mentioned above), Malmer’s Grocery, H.M. Stieler (146 W. Clark St.) and Moulton’s. He added that the city’s original Red Owl store was on East Clark Street.

On Broadway Avenue, south of Clark Street, and on the west side were Johnsrud’s Foods, National Tea, Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. (better known as A& P), Carl Johnson Fairway, South Broadway Jack Sprat Grocery, and Coonradt’s.

On Broadway Avenue, south of Clark Street, and on the east side were Hans Peter Christensen at Economy Food Market, Borland-Anderson, and Obell Wayne’s Grocery, 832 S. Broadway Ave.

Other grocery stores in the central part of the city about seven decades ago were the Piggly Wiggly on South Washington Avenue, and Johnson and Hanson at 212 E. Clark St.

On the city’s north side Dick listed a Larson store, Ole Sorenson’s Red & White Grocery at 646 Marshall Street, Otto Sorenson’s store at 508 Bridge Ave., Hovlboll Grocery on Johnson Street and also at 1320 Marshall St., and the Borland store on what was then Babcock Avenue (now East Main Street).

The above listing creates a question and a comment. First, were the two Sorensons, related and maybe even brothers? Second, I checked the 1936 city directory and this listing confirms Dick’s listing for the two stores owned by N. Chris Hovlboll. Incidentally, the Marshall Street store was also listed as being a “gasoline filling station.”

But wait, folks, there are still a few more stores Dick lists as being in Albert Lea about seven decades ago. He added Ringham’s Grocery on Pearl Street, Fountain Street Grocery, Louis Henry on Lakeview Boulevard near Blackmer Avenue, Trapp’s Grocery, Harold Thuesen’s store on West College Street, the IGA store, the Michaelis store and F.L. Christensen’s Grocery, both on East Fourth Street, a store on East Charles Street (L.T. Christensen), and one Dick said was on Second Street.

My count on Dick’s list results in a total of 32 grocery stores in Albert Lea back in 1936. The listing in the city directory for that year shows a total of 39 retail groceries, plus several places clearly identified as meat markets.

All these stores back in that era could qualify as neighborhood groceries. There wasn’t an actual supermarket on either Dick’s list or indicated with the 1936 city directory. Now those smaller neighborhood grocery stores have just about faded away along with the gasoline filling stations. They have been replaced with what we now call the convenience stores.

Special thanks goes to Richard A. Jensen of Edina who wrote the letter which resulted in two of these nostalgia nudges for our readers out here between the corn rows.

In last week’s column I had the wrong dates for the annual Albert Lea Figure Skating Club show at the City Arena. The right dates for this always excellent show are March 7 and 8.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.