Last year we visited Walter Schutz’s Milwaukee neighborhood of the early 1900’s with descriptions from his book It Was Fun Being Young, focusing on his memories of holidays and school days. Once again, we’ll follow Walter as a young boy, this time to the grocery store.
He writes, “Our grocery store, Ellenbecker’s, was the largest place of business at the corner of Holton and North. It sold only groceries. You could not buy meat or shoestrings or toothpaste or any articles of this kind – it was groceries only. Back then, there were any number of small shops and stores that served neighborhoods. At Ellenbecker’s, a long, hardwood counter extended down the left hand side of the store. In front of it were four or five swivel stools, where the customers would sit while their orders were filled by the clerk.
The clerk brought every item to the customer. Courteous customers would group their requests, so the clerk would have to make as few trips as possible. Along the wall in the back of the counter were ceiling-high, deep shelves. The most asked-for items were on the lower shelves. To reach the top shelves, a rolling ladder ran in a track on the floor with its top suspended from a track in the ceiling. In addition, a sort of ‘grab-it’ was used.
Fresh produce was displayed in boxes with slanted sides on a two-tiered rack in the center of the store. They contained carrots, radishes, ears of corn, rutabagas and the like. The north wall held all the canned goods and preserves. Usually, vegetables were canned at home. The purchase of canned goods was limited.
Most items were in bulk, including coffee, flour, sugar, dried peas and beans. Flour and sugar came in large, white wood stave barrels which rested on a swing-out platform under the counter. The clerk would swing out the barrel and weigh the amount wanted using a bright, shiny scoop. Dried peas and beans were in barrels or rolled-down canvas bags that stood in the aisle in the middle of the store with wooden scoops for measuring.
Weather permitting, almost all of the grocery stores displayed their wares in front of the store. In the fall, concord grapes came in small baskets with wood or wire handles and were placed side by side and stacked. It was not uncommon to see a pile of baskets at least 4 feet high, 6 feet long and 4 feet wide. The reason for these mounds and mounds of grapes was that they were used to make homemade jelly and wine. This was done by most of the families in our neighborhood.”
About the small shops and stores of his youth, Walter wrote, “…the store owner knew personally every one of his or her customers and their preferences. It was, in fact, a very pleasant time to be alive.”
Our own Washington Island “neighborhood” grocery store, Mann’s Store, has been in operation since 1903. Through six generations, the Mann family has provided a “One Stop Shopping Center” for the community (as noted on the sign in this photo taken in the 1970’s).
The original store was a two-story building with furniture in the second story. Besides meats and groceries, the store sold clothing, shoes, housewares, hardware, fishing equipment, appliances, farm equipment, tires, wholesale fish, lumber, millwork, automobiles and caskets. The original building was lost in a fire in 1932, but many volunteers were able to carry what they could across the road to what is now Karly’s dance hall and laid much of it out on tables. The very next day it was “business as usual”.
During the first few years the store was in operation, it was necessary to make plans for the winter stock to be purchased and shipped to the Island before the passage was frozen. During the winter, a horse and sleigh sometimes took extra butter and eggs from Island farmers across the frozen bay to Escanaba, returning with groceries. (This was before regular winter ferry service.)
In those early years, Mann’s delivered orders twice a week to all parts of the island, and an ice route served about 100 customers – vital services in the day when roads were poor and very few people owned cars. During the Depression, Mann’s extended credit to a lot of Island families and many people said they wouldn’t have made it through without that help.
Since the late 1960’s, when the first flat-top ferry boat arrived, it became possible for trucks to drive directly to the store, rather than unloading and reloading goods at the ferry dock. In the off-season, the Mann’s Store truck meets the grocery supplier at Northport and they swap pallets between the two. In the summer the distributor brings the delivery right to the back door at least twice a week.
There were a number of other stores that carried groceries through the years including Gislason’s Store (the building is gone, but was located near the Red Barn and Gislason Beach), Koyen’s Store (part of which is now “St. Michael’s Chapel” on Jackson Harbor Road), Ted’s Store, later known as Harbor Grocery (now Fiddler’s Green), the Clover Farm store (first located where the Middle Bar is today, then at what is now the Red Cup Coffee House) and last, the Jackson Harbor Store (you know it as Sievers).
We are very lucky to have our own “neighborhood” store with all that we need plus many special touches including Island-grown produce, handmade deli salads, special-order items, hand-cut meats and most importantly, the place to visit with each other or learn the latest news while standing on the neatly kept hardwood floor that has supported the community through the years in more ways than one.
For a little more on Mann’s Store, follow this link to a Peninsula Pulse article from 2020.