WORTHINGTON — Offering access to fresh food, something sweet and a communal gathering location just around the corner, neighborhood grocery stores served as the lifeblood for Worthington residents for many years.
Following several years of research, the Nobles County Historical Society invites people to reminisce about Worthington’s former neighborhood stores during a free 2 p.m. Oct. 27 presentation in the Worthington Area YMCA Community Room.
"(The stores) were a lifeblood for some of the families who were dependent upon those places," said NCHS member Jerry Fiola, who has been working with member Sandy Wood on the project since 2014.
The presentation spans from Worthington’s first neighborhood store — Scott’s Grocery, which opened in 1923 on Clary Street — through the last open store, Log Cabin Grocery at the intersection of Humiston Avenue and 14th Street, which closed in 1998.
In addition to society members' many years of research, the Sunday presentation will include appearances by a selection of former store owners and employees. Old photographs of the stores, along with a map pinpointing the store’s locations throughout town, will also be shared.
According to Fiola, he and Wood hoped to document and preserve the history of the stores before a generation that carried memories of the stores were gone.
Some areas in town had neighborhood stores just blocks apart. Fewer modes of transportation and freshness of produce may have played a role in the neighborhood stores success, Fiola said.
At one point, Fiola said, Cherry Point Grocery along West Lake Avenue had a toboggan slide, and provided a space for kids to warm up before heading back out for more fun. People could rent fishing poles and purchase bait and tackle. Cherry Point Park on Pershing Boulevard is close to where the former grocery store was located.
For some time, the Log Cabin store had many youthful patrons, as it was in close proximity to the former school that is now Memorial Auditorium. The store was also open select hours on Sunday during a time when all other stores closed up shop on that day of the week.
According to Wood, social media also played an important role in their research. A photo posted to the "Growing Up in Worthington, Minnesota, What Do you Remember" Facebook page resulted in useful connections and more information. It also confirmed the community’s interest in the project.
One story, Wood said, was shared by a man from when he was a child. The man said he could remember being instructed to drop some change in the collection plate at church. He didn’t want to, because he knew the family was going to visit the store after.
“So he pulled a button off of his coat and put that in the collection plate, so he had his money to spend at the market,” Wood said, chuckling.
While the project has reaped many historical accounts and photos of former stores, Fiola said there’s still more to discover. Little information is known on some of the stores, like Smith’s (Ford’s) Grocery and Paulson Avenue Grocery. The society is still in search of photographs of some of the stores.
“Our hope is that when we get these people to our presentation, we want to find out where they did their shopping,” Fiola said.
The pair don’t plan to put the project to rest after their upcoming presentation. Work to bridge a connection from neighborhood stores of the past with those of present has already begun. Many of the current neighborhood stores are immigrant-owned and operated.
They’ve also begun collecting information about stores from other Nobles County communities, which may develop into a larger project in the future.