Neighborhood grocers’ tills closed, but buildings remain

What a grand time it was in Minot!

Telephone numbers began with the prefix “TE.” Rooms at “The Northwest’s Finest,” the towering and fashionable Clarence Parker Hotel, were advertised for $4 per night. It was also when Minot boasted more grocery stores than it has today.

Difficult to believe?

Those who express disbelief at what may appear to be absurd claims can be forgiven. Those who remember, though, know the above statements to be true. Then again, they also are likely to recall purchasing a full-sized candy bar for 3 cents. Two more pennies would get you a box of candy, too. That’s right, a yummy Lunch Bar and a sweet box of Snaps for a nickel and all just a few steps from your front door!

Such purchases were common in the days when neighborhood grocery stores flourished in Minot, and Minot had plenty of them – Mock’s, Helm’s, Sunshine, Magic Mile Market, Top Valu, Cut-Rate and several more. Kids on bicycles peddled to the neighborhood stores for special treats. Adults depended upon the small grocers to supply the dinner table, sometimes putting purchases “on the tab.” Minot’s neighborhood grocery stores were the predecessors of today’s convenience stores.

“It was convenient. You have to remember that families had only one car back then,” said Renee Farrell, Minot.

There were exceptions, but in a typical Minot home at the time, the husband would drive the car to work and the wife would tend to the home and children. For many, that meant there was no vehicle to drive to a distant store. However, it usually wasn’t necessary anyway. A short walk to a neighborhood store for needed items was easily accomplished.

Mock’s Grocery

Farrell grew up in southwest Minot, just a few steps away from Mock’s Grocery. Mock’s was located on the corner of Fifth Street and Ninth Avenue. It was a quaint little store that provided a big service for the neighborhood.

“I loved living right across the street from it,” recalled Farrell. “I used to buy sunflower seeds for a nickel a bag.”

Mock’s always had plenty of candy to appeal to small children living nearby. A few toys were there, too, like tiny soldiers and colorful “cats eye” marbles. There was a little something for everybody who took the time to find all that was available at a neighborhood grocery.

Like other neighborhood grocery stores, space was limited at Mock’s. Aisles were very narrow. Shelves were stacked high and filled with grocery items from canned goods to cake mixes. Bread, milk and eggs were important, too, because they were often needed by neighborhood customers at a moment’s notice. If something was missing from the kitchen at dinnertime, it was easy for a mother to send a child to the store. Many a missing ingredient was quickly supplied by a short run down the street.

Mock’s, owned and operated by Allen and Pauline Mock, closed sometime in the late 1950s. It was a time when a few people began building two-car garages, previously a rarity, and began relying more upon larger grocery stores that had sufficient room to stock a greater variety of items.

“Chuck used to deliver bread there,” recalled Vivian Seier, Minot when asked if she remembered Mock’s store.

Her husband, Charles Seier, worked for Minot’s old Sweetheart Bakery. The couple eventually purchased a home across the street from Mock’s store.

“It was closed when we made the move, about 1959,” said Vivian Seier.

Today, Mock’s Grocery is a residence, yet still retains the familiar porch that was a common invitation to enter a friendly neighborhood grocery. The purpose of the premises has changed today, yet many of Minot’s old neighborhood grocery buildings remain. Most have been converted into apartments, covering up bits and pieces of Minot history.

Helm’s Grocery

An aging sign still dangles from a pole outside the old Helm’s Grocery at 603 Eighth Ave. NE. Next to the front door is a plaque in remembrance of the years Helm’s Grocery served the neighborhood 1947 to 1988.

“After World War II the boys came home and wanted to build a new store. My mother-in-law bought it originally in 1937,” recalled Georgia Helm.

Georgia Helm and her husband operated Helm’s Grocery for many years. After her husband passed away, Georgia Helm continued in the neighborhood business with the assistance of her daughter and brother-in-law.

“Candy was pretty good because we are close to Roosevelt School,” said Helm. “Kids would come on their bikes. They liked the penny stuff mostly, Tootsie Rolls and jawbreakers. We had boxes of Snaps, too. I think they were 2 cents.”

While neighborhood children seeking sweets could keep a store lively, Helm’s remained a reliable outlet for primary food items, too.

“We had produce, frozen foods and some meats,” said Helm. “We delivered some groceries. Sometimes the railroad would call us at night and we’d open up the store for them.”

Helm vividly recalls one particular instance at the store. It was the day she was robbed at knife-point. A young customer who had aroused her suspicions on earlier trips to the store pulled out a large knife and demanded money.

“It was in the 70s. I gave him the money out of the till and then buzzed upstairs,” remembered Helm. “The police were there in a minute.”

Helm’s husband was eating lunch upstairs from the main floor grocery business at the time of the robbery. The crook was captured a short time later.

“They found him on the highway headed to Florida,” said Helm. “We got our money back.”

Helm’s Grocery closed its doors in 1988, finally giving way to the growing popularity of convenience stores and large grocery chains. The building received a make-over after it was sold to others in the Helm family. Helm’s daughter and husband live in the building today. Georgia Helm still resides there, too, living in a main floor apartment constructed in the space where she used to arrange shelves and direct customers to items they needed.

“I’ve lived here 63 years altogether,” said Helm.

Helm is among the few original operators of Minot’s neighborhood grocery stores still residing in the city today and the only former grocer still living at the same location where they worked.

Sunshine Grocery

Glenn and Lilah Hasby are long-time friends of Helm. The Hasbys purchased Sunshine Grocery in 1976. The store was located in the 300 Block on West University, about one block from Minot State University.

“It was a Mom and Pop operation. We had bread, milk and pop and all the necessities to make supper, including meat,” said Lilah Hasby.

Lois Johnson was the proprietor of Sunshine Grocery for 10 years prior to selling the business to the Hasbys.

“It was built in 1929 and was Sunshine Grocery all the time. It was named after a daughter who was Sunshine. There were nine owners before we got it,” recalled Glenn Hasby. “We operated it before closing the business in the fall of 1990. We closed it and remodeled it and lived there for another 13 years.”

Students from Minot State and kids from the neighborhood were frequent customers at Sunshine Grocery. Sunshine made home deliveries for people unable to commute and let some customers fill grocery bags on a simple promise to pay later.

“That’s when people were accountable yet,” explained Lilah Hasby. “You could trust them to pay their bill every month. The people were friendly and we loved it!”

By 1990, though, business had slowed considerably at Sunshine Grocery. The quaint little grocery was one of the last of the neighborhood stores to close its doors.

“They put those little refrigerators in the dorms, which slowed the Minot State student traffic,” remembered Glenn Hasby. “There were C-Stores, Mini-Marts and all of that. Then the big stores opened. People could go to the big stores and get a better price.”

Today the pole that once held the sign for Sunshine Grocery still stands at the location next to a few parking spaces in the front of the building, space where numerous bicycles would often be parked briefly each weekday morning during the school year. The 2011 flood reached the location, leading to another renovation of apartments where Sunshine Grocery had played an important role in the neighborhood.

End of an era

When the era of neighborhood grocery stores came to a close, it marked a noticeable change in Minot. What was once the focal point for many neighbors was no more. Vanishing, too, was a place where neighbors would often meet and exchange pleasantries.

When the tills closed for the final time on Minot’s neighborhood grocery stores, some considered it a sign that Minot was growing up as a city. Others who had relished the friendships built and fostered around the small stores viewed the transition quite differently. All would rejoice, though, for one more opportunity to purchase a candy bar and a box of candy for 5 cents.