Ten items or less, and other myths…

  • Maybe you’ve already had your turkey, pilgrim, but I write this Tuesday with visions of drumsticks dancing through my head, and hearken back to an era when 90 per cent of the grocery stores in Reno weren’t much bigger than a convenience store. I mentioned a fortnight ago that families 50 years ago had refrigerators only slightly larger than the little countertop units we have in our offices, and even after the World War II many weren’t even mechanical refrigeration – the Iceman cometh. Thus, we visited the market several times a week, and many shoppers were limited to buying only what they could carry or wheel home.

    Markets sprang up around town, their locations dictated by demographics. Travel back with me now to a smallish postwar Reno and we’ll visit a few markets – many little more than a room added on to the storekeeper’s home, often on a corner. Some had enough room for temperature-controlled -few stores were large enough to sublet space to an actual butcher shop on the 7-Eleven premises. Let’s mosey around town and revisit a few stores. I’ll probably miss a few; so don’t be bashful about filling in the gaps. You probably think this is easy – just go through the 1950 City Directory, right? It don’t work that way, boys and girls. Many listings are just “B. Akert” or “J. Barnes”, and it takes a little scratching around to find it was “Akert’s Market” and “Barnes’ Cash Grocery.” And some have had a slew of names over the years – I’m gravitating toward the names they were known by in 1950, when the mom-and-pops last proliferated.

    The southeast quadrant of our Reno was populating close to South Virginia and Wells, only starting to sprawl south of Vassar. Washburn’s Market was on Wilson Street, later a radio shop. Kearns’ was far southeast at Kirman and Vassar by the new Veterans’ Memorial School. A couple on South Wells Avenue – a redundant address in 1950, as there was no North Wells Avenue – Reid’s, and Polli’s a little further south. Glubrecht’s was far south on Wrondel near Hubbard Way, and as I recall there was a chinchilla farm across the street. With a name like Glubrecht’s it has to be good.

    Organizing these markets, I tended to put the South Virginia Street markets together, and they were for the most part walking distance from southeast and southwest Reno homemakers. At the end of Wells Avenue at South Virginia was Black’s, a fairly comprehensive market with a butcher shop. A little to the south at Linden was the Twentieth Century Market, next door to Harris Meat, owned by Len Harris who would later be mayor of Reno. The Old Orchard Market across from the present Park Lane Center lasted well into the 1960s; to the north was the Mt. Rose at 711 South Virginia. The Farmer’s Market was exactly that, a little north of the Old Orchard by the present Peppermill, serving retail customers and wholesale to other Reno markets.

    Southwest Reno, as we’ve learned in past columns, wasn’t exactly overdeveloped in 1950 – picture the town with no Plumb Lane east of Arlington Avenue and little development west of Hunter Lake Drive. (The Corner Market at Hunter Lake and Mayberry was rural, as in “dirt roads.”) The California Avenue Market (known for a time as the “South Side Market”) was the venerable grocery in that part of town, a full market with a popular butcher shop that went well into the 1970s – owner George Minor, later Charlie Bradley, finally Fred Antoniazzi – the legends of lambchops. A kid named Karl Breckenridge the Elder delivered groceries for them on a bike with a huge basket in the early 1930s. (It should be mentioned that most of these markets survived by running an efficient and speedy delivery trade, filling a good percentage of their orders by phone. Ergo, some stores were called “cash grocery” – no delivery, cash on the barrelhead, no charge accounts.) Still in the southwest was Clark’s Market, east on California Avenue in what would become Powell’s Drugs at Humboldt. To the south, Collier’s, on Mt. Rose Street by the present 7-Eleven, and the Lander Street Market, which closed in 2002near Mount Rose School, after new owners shut it down for too long, and it lost its zoning “grandfather” status. [Mt. Rose Street, Mount Rose School. Fourth Street in Reno, 4th Street in Sparks. Wanna be an editor…?]

    I mentioned Akert’s Market on East 4th and Alameda (North Wells) Avenue, where the Akerts’ son Ben learned the grocery trade decades before opening Ben’s Discount Liquors. On East Sixth was Meffley’s, further out was Mathisen’s, later rebuilt and enlarged as Mathisen’s catering hall and now the home of Washoe ARC. On East Fourth was the Lincoln, Pinky’s (for the Pincolini family), and further out the M&M and L&H Meats. Davey’s, on Quincy by the future freeway. Muenow’s, on East Seventh.

    Downtown, where a lot of people worked and then shopped on the way home, was Ring-Lee with one store on Mill Street and the other in the block now occupied by the 50 West Liberty Plaza. In that Liberty block also was a Safeway, and Frank’s on the corner of Sierra. Safeway had another store in the classic brick building that remains on the southeast corner of North Virginia and Fifth Street that opened before WWII as a Skaggs-Safeway. That store would survive until the Sewell family opened their “super-store” in 1948 across Virginia Street, that building demolished in 1995 to make room for the Silver Legacy. Lemaire’s was a block north of Sewell’s on Virginia; Louie Piazzo’s was across the tracks to the south in a space later occupied by The Sportsman (across Virginia from the present Eldorado.) The Reno Public Market was on East Second at Lake. A little larger than the mom-and-pops were the Eagle Thriftys (later acquired by Raley’s), the aforementioned-Sewell’s, and the Games family’s Washoe Market, still all downtown. Readers had a little confusion in town caused by the California Market across from Piazzo’s – often being confused with the California Avenue Market named above (that latter one often labeled the California Avenue Grocery in ads and print text. Same place.)

    • • •

    Paper or plastic?

    Now we’re nearing the Sparks neighborhoods, so we’ll pick up the beat there and stop in the express lane of the Stop ‘n Go on the corner of East Fourth and Coney Island, then I’ll say this one last time and you’ll never have to read it again in a Web column: When we’re recalling the old days, the present Victorian Avenue shall forever be known as B Street. (I’ve grown weary of making that distinction week-after-week.)

    Down the road to Sparks, in no particular order, we have Kellison’s on B Street, a block from Baker’s Grocery and butcher shop, and I once joked with the guy who assembled the Homefinder real estate supplement each week that on the Saturday following his retirement from the RGJ, which I thought then would coincide with my final print column, I would publish for you all to read the motto on the side of Baker’s 1950 Chevy panel delivery truck. I’ll keep the deal; the top line of their motto painted on the truck started “You can beat our prices,” and the lower line started, “but you can’t….”, and here remind you that they were also a butcher shop. Pay ‘n Save was a little to the east on B Street; as we learned last week most grocery stores carried charge accounts and delivered – the name Pay ‘n Save indicated that it was a no-frills store.

    “Conductor Heights” – the residential area south of the S.P. tracks – was well served by Gomes’ Grocery on South 17th Street (now Rock Boulevard). On Prater and 15th Street was Kendall’s, nearby the Wright Way Market, a classic that Washoe County Clerk Amy Harvey would shoot me for not mentioning. Smitty’s Market (Lody Smith’s family) was on B near Pyramid Way (OK, it was still called “8th Street” in 1950). How could we forget the Midget Mart on B near 2nd Street – one of the earliest “mini stores” and still in business today as “Litke’s,” and tied with the Wright Way market as the oldest markets in Sparks.

    • • •

    All together we go now, west along Highway 40 but we can’t stop for coffee at the Gold-n-Silver because it won’t be built for seven more years. (Some reader will probably suggest Hale’s Drug’s fountain at West Fourth and Vine, for the best hamburgers in town in 1950.)

    It’s nearing Christmas, so I’ll mention the Santa Claus Market first – a tiny little rock building on the corner of Vine and West Sixth, the native stone spray painted bright silver and not likely to be confused with any other structure in Reno. It was so-named because it was open Christmas Day. Across West Fifth Street from Mary S. Doten School was the Cottage Grocery, Johnny Beetchen, proprietor, who was also the butcher (as I mentioned last week, a butcher shop was a rarity in these little mom & pops.) A block north on Washington Street at Seventh was the Quality Market and gas station – known to most as “Quilici’s” – and many of us aging northwest Reno denizens long for the chance to have grabbed up their gray ’40 Ford pickup with “Quality Market” on the doors, always parked alongside the antique hand-operated, glass-reservoir gas pump that really belongs on someone’s, say my, patio. It probably got carted off as junk when the I-80 freeway ate the old Quality Market site. I can say with authority that the Quality, Cottage and Santa Claus sold one Hell of a lot of Bazooka bubble gum, licorice ropes and banana Popsicles after school

    Ralston Street? You bet – three markets I know of: the Ralston Market at the foot of the hill by West Sixth Street [gone], Maynard’s at Tenth Street, (now the Pub-and-Sub, Sigma Nu fraternity’s beer garden branch office) and the University Market two blocks to the north of Maynard’s. On West Fourth Street, Reno’s apartment row, the Elmwood Market at 435 West Fourth and Churchill’s across Highway 40 from old Reno High (in 1950, a year later Central Jr. High, now the Sundowner site.) Barnes’ Cash Grocery, a block to the west on the ol’ Lincoln Highway.

    On West Second Street, (Brickie) Hansen’s Market, across from Bello’s tamale factory, best in the west. Vanoni’s Market was further west at Arletta (Gardner?) Street. While noodling around West Third at the site of the present Sands Resort we find the Porta family’s market, stocking every manner of pasta for the “little Italy” district north on Washington Street. I’d mention that it was later the first location of a Porta Subs, but Lee Green, neé Lina Porta, wife of our favorite Central Jr. High vice-principal Chet Green, wouldn’t want me to do that. Nevada’s faculty enclave”: Rommelfanger’s, ‘way north by College Drive, and DuPratt’s, nearer downtown at Sierra and West Sixth. That was the town’s only Rommelfanger’s, by the way.

    There are others, like the Ferrari family’s Food Store on West Second and West Street, so stay tuned – we’re not done shopping yet. The food store is a column of its own.

    And that’s the way it is at the tail end of January, 2009. Have a good week, watch for the classic Mean Joe Greene-Coca Cola commercial during the Super Bowl game (“Hey, kid…..), and God bless America!

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2 thoughts on “Ten items or less, and other myths…

  1. Good morning, Karl: It wasn’t on my to-do list this morning to spend 90 minutes reading old Karl Breckenridge Columns but that’s what I just did. Poignant column about my principal, Mr. Finch. Didn’t know he lived alone in that strange old apartment building; makes him not so scary now. Then about Santa Claus Market…then the Golden Hotel fire and Smokey being a hero. And then South Wells Avenue…many memories come back while reading the names of those long-gone businesses. They’re so hard to remember shortly after the changes. Whoa, I feel like I need to take some deep breaths. Thanks for doing all that research and sharing. Phyllis

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