The old building we’ll be chronicling this day is located in Lethbridge Alberta. While now a residence, it was for much of its history a grocery store, with many, many different owners over the years. We’ve come armed with an old photo showing it way back in 1980, with the goal to shoot something similar, for inclusion in a BIGDoer.com then and now post. This post!
The corner grocery store (forgive us, but this one is actually mid-block): every neighbourhood in every city or town, big or small, had at least one. It was just down the street, convenient, local, personal and typically staffed by the family who owned it and who usually lived upstairs. It’s where you went when you needed a quick loaf of bread, some milk, butter, a slab of Bologna, or some small this and that. It seems there was a little of everything for sale, food, housewares, hardware, etc. And for the kid’s it was pure heaven. Candy, candy and more candy!
The local store was not just a place of commerce, but also a social centre of sorts. Want to keep up with the latest news or juicy gossip? Go there. They were the heart of any community.
Most of these once iconic businesses are now gone. For the small stuff the local brightly-lit 24hr gas bar gets patronized (and for the big things, the city block-sized mega-stores – MUST CONSUME!). They’re sterile, cold and unfriendly, yet the seem to have no shortage of customers.
This particular building dates back to 1918. Some records seen list, variously, 1910, 1911 and 1917 – the city says 1918. The location is the north end of Lethbridge just east of the Oldman River Valley. This is the former village of Stafford, now the present day Staffordville community. This was originally a working class neighbourhood, with a heavy Italian population, with most able bodied men finding employment in nearby “Galt” coal mines.
If the store was indeed built pre-1918 we can’t find much to back that up. Brief mention is made of an “early” owner, one Gia Everists, but that’s about it. Is it an error or some a mixed-up reference? We don’t know. We’ll keep our eye’s open however, should more info come to light.
From 1918-1942 it was Berte Grocery (sometimes listed as J. Berte Grocery), named after its owner John Berte. From 1942-1949 it was Natalini Grocery (owner Natale Natalini). From 1950-1954 it was General Grocery and Meat (owners Michael and Mary Swidinsky). From 1954-1969 it was George’s Groceries and Meats (owner George Cong). Note: some records differ slightly from what’s listed here.
From 1970-1975 it was Yien’s Grocery (CW Chan) and from 1976-1997 it was William’s Grocery, sometimes called William’s Grocery and Meat (William Lam and his wife Yee Wah). Vacant for a time, just after the turn of the century it was the Tumbleweed Cafe for a spell. Since 2004 it has been a residence. Stucco that was clearly present on the building when the “then” photo was captured has been removed exposing the George’s Grocery sign; and on the side of the building a faded one advertising Stag Tobacco. The latter is from at least 1920, an old photo from then clearly shows it.
This brick building is constructed in the “Boomtown” style of architecture characterized by simple form and lines with a prominent false front. Most corner stores had living quarters on the upper floor and this one was no exception.
The “then” photo captures the William’s Grocery period. Just love the neon sign and the “Canada Dry” sandwich board. The shed seen beside the car is gone today, recall, the stucco has been removed and some old ghost signs exposed, but overall the building has changed little since 1980. The picket fence is still there.
The old car to the right is hard to see but appears to be a 1968-1978 era Ford Country Squire Wagon. The green paint and fake wood side panels would be considered stylish at the time. I guess. Yikes! These giants of the road, huge gas guzzling land yachts, typically came with three row seating (the last one facing backwards) and a unique tailgate which could drop down flat or swing out like a huge barn door. Older folks might recognize the bright yellow Alberta License Plate. These were in use from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
The then photo was sourced by this author and comes from the Lethbridge Historical Society collection (thanks guys). Our readers are also invited to donate or send in old images (scans are fine) to be used in a BIGDoer.com them and now. Have an old family photo showing a building way back when, or as street scene? Send it our way (go to the contact link). We’ll visit the location seen, shoot a photo composed much like the original, and do a little write up on it all.
How do we line things up in our photos? All the heavy lifting, as they say, the dirty work, composing, that sort of stuff, is done in camera. That’s how we do it. And while not perfect, we came close to cutting off the building on the left side for example, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Photoshop would be too easy.
More then and now posts…
Calgary then and now – Crescent Heights High School.
Calgary Transit then and now – #7 South Calgary run.
Shaunavon Saskatchewan then and now.
Fort MacLeod then and now – Fort Museum.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: November, 2015.
Location: Lethbridge, AB.
Article references: Lethbridge Historical Society, Alberta Register of Historic Places, Lethbridge city records, Henderson Directory, Lethbridge 1918.
The building can be viewed from public property.