Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RETURN TO THE CORNER MARKET

1935  Advertisement from old Victory Market

Melhorn Dairy sold not only its own products, but also that which you purchased on the typical corner market of the period. 

Barnum's Stores, Fourth Street, early 1900s
      The corner market, like penny candy inside glass counters, has long disappeared from Gem City neighborhoods, but has left sweet memories and a rich history.
      With the development of Toronto during the late 1800s came the arrival of the neighborhood market, its numbers increasing as the town expanded southward, peaking during the 1950s and 1960s when nearly 8,000 people inhabited the river town.  As many as 20 small markets were in business during that period, usually family owned and operated, the family often residing in the same building that contained the store.
      From Romey's, Karaffa's and Brem's in the north end to Calabrese's and Didd's at the south, a Toronto resident could walk within a few minutes to purchase bread, milk, lunch meat and other daily groceries.  One street, Federal, had three such stores-Frank's, Wasyk's and Smitty's--on three successive city blocks.
      "Most families had only one car back then," said Mike Swaykus, who was owner and manager of the former Mike's Market, where now sits the empty Olive Branch.  "While the father worked, the kids or mother could walk to a store to get whatever they needed."
      Karaffa's Store, catty-corner from the present Tucker's Tavern, was the small grocery with which the Swaykus family dealt when Mike was growing up.
      "My family had an account there," Swaykus said.  "I remember my mom would call Karaffa's and order a pound of bologna, a rump roast or a bag of potatoes, and Joe Karaffa would deliver them to our home on any day of the week.  My mom would always settle the bill on pay day.  That kind of thing is a thing of the past."
      Handshake accounts and home deliveries are two childhood memories for Liz Fedash, who lived on the 900 block of Loretta Avenue, where Katz's was the neighborhood grocer from the 1930s to the 1950s.
      As a teenager during the late 1940s, Fedash cleaned the Katzes' upstairs apartment and worked filling orders at Calabrese's, then located at Pierce and Wentworth.
       "Katz's was like a general store," Fedash said.  "They sold produce, meats and penny candy.  They were really nice people.  Many times my mom needed milk on Sunday, and they would open the store for us.  You don't get that kind of service today.
       "When I went to pay my family's bills, regardless of how much we paid, Mr. Katz would always give me a bag of candy," she continued.  "The Katzes would always send us gifts on Christmas, which I thought was especially nice since they didn't celebrate Christmas because they were Jewish."
      Friendliness was also a familiar trait with the Calabrese family, for whom Fedash worked filling orders.
      "They took call-in orders.  They sold meats and produce and beer by the cases and delivered all over town," she said.
      Vince Exterovich, who grew up on Sixth Street during the 1930s and early 1940s, described McClane's on the same street as "a very small store where you could buy some canned goods and bread."
      He also mentioned Russell's on Findley, north of the old Roosevelt School and and the Victory Market on downtown Fourth Street.  "They were very friendly," Exterovich said of downtown store owners.  "They would always speak to me."
      Just north of downtown was the old Ralph's Golden Crown Store, which the Swaykus family purchased in 1976 and renamed Mike's, a store with a name that reflected the first-name basis values of the traditional corner market.
      "I can honestly say at one time I knew half the people in town by their first names," Swaykus said.
      He attributed the demise of the corner market to the ownership of more than one family vehicle and the competition with franchise markets.
       "The small grocer started declining in town during the 1970's," he said. "Families could then drive to look for better prices."
      Mike's, the last corner market in town, went out of business in 1998.