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Neighborhood grocery stores – an extinct species

It wasn’t hard to find a grocery store in the old days of Sheridan. This was in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s before supermarkets.

Then, the retail grocery stores were what we affectionately refer to as “mom and pop shops.” They seemed to spring up where enterprising folks thought they were needed.

During these times, the streets of Sheridan weren’t all that great and people didn’t have the transportation to go clear to the big supermarket (if there had been one) on the south side of town to buy groceries like they do today.

The stores were sprinkled all over town. In one year, in the 1940s, the Sheridan telephone directory listed 33 retail grocers. More than half of them (24) were strewn up and down Main Street (13), Broadway (4), Fifth Street (4), Coffeen (2), and Loucks (2).

The rest were scattered about in residential neighborhoods on the following streets: Custer, Smith, West Burkitt, East Brundage, Colorado and Sumner, Lewis, Park and Sumner.

The old grocery stores brought back an abundance of fond memories to various Sheridan High School alumni who reminisced about them several years ago in an email exchange.

One, Mary Hutton (Class of ’48), remembered the Big Horn Avenue grocery established in her neighborhood in about 1937.

The store not only provided groceries, but was also a gathering place for kids. Mary remembered that: “We sometimes had a penny or two to buy candy, so we played around the store a lot and the front of the store was always cluttered with bikes.”

Several recounted memories of “Blind Mary’s” store on 12th and Main. Its real name was probably the Bungalow Drive In Food Store.

The proprietress could not see very well. Malcolm Hutton (Class of ’47) was sent by his father to buy eggs for their sitting hens and told to be sure and bring back the seven cents in change. Malcolm related that: “Poor old Mary searched everywhere in the whole store for my seven cents and it took 15 or 20 minutes. I just waited and waited until she finally crawled into a cooler behind the counter and brought out a purse with lots of change.”

Some of the local children figured out how to get free treats from the stores.

Mary Alice Gunderson (Class of ’53) often went to Cull’s Grocery on Burkitt Street: “On one of the main counters was a glass jar filled with crème-filled vanilla and oreo-type cookies. I simply stayed in the store looking at the cookie jar until they gave me one…my mother had said I was never, never to ask for them.”

Several people recited how comparatively inexpensive things were in those days.

One person remembered going to Sawyers Grocery on Broadway and buying a whole stalk of bananas; “We were sick of bananas before we finished that one!”

Jim Marron (Class of ’57) lamented about inflation. “I do remember gum balls, etc. going for a penny; good sized candy bars going for a nickel…and my favorite was the chocolate ice cream cone for a nickel.”

Local grocery stores changed ownership often, and for many different reasons.

One, the Star Grocery was on the south side of East Fifth Street about a block and a half off North Main. Clara Blakeman Lehman (Class of ’53) remembered that it was operated by a Japanese family. It closed abruptly during the early 1940s when the family was carted off to one of the wartime internment camps, most likely Heart Mountain.

Many other memories about the old local neighborhood grocers abound among the surviving population who were children in the heyday of the neighborhood grocery store.

It gives pause for reflection that most people nowadays are unaware of the importance of the neighborhood grocery, or that they even existed, to Sheridan residents. We didn’t always get our groceries from big supermarkets.

One former student asked the question: “Will we ever get nostalgic about the good old days when we hung out at Walmart?”

Probably not.

 

 

 

 

Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.


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