On November 2, 2022

Grocery shopping in the 1950s to 1970s

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Shopping for food in Rutland back in the ’50s was an entirely different experience than it is today. The Rutland Directory for 1955 has 50 listings under the heading of “Grocer.”

Only two of those stores were large chain stores. One of them was the A & P (Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) at 105 West St. The other was the First National store located at 9-13 Merchants Row. Both stores were on corners and parking was on the back side of each building. My mother usually shopped at the First National but there was often something that they didn’t carry so A&P would be our next stop.

I remember the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans as you entered the back door of the First National. They offered many choices when it came to grinding coffee. A store employee ground it for you as you waited.

There were a few grocery stores that were mid-size — smaller than the two main grocery stores but larger than the numerous neighborhood markets. One of the main attractions of these mid-size stores was their meat counters. A butcher/meat cutter provided you with such things as a steak of your choice or freshly ground hamburg. My father was the “meat shopper” and it was a weekly event for him to go to the Percy P Wood Store at 109 Lincoln Ave. He always went on a Tuesday afternoon which was his scheduled time off from work. It was a ritual for him to come home with cube steaks for supper that night. The well stocked shelves usually had something else that we needed and my father would pick up items as he made his way from the meat counter to the checkout.

At the other end of town was the South End Market at 102 Strongs Ave. That meat counter was also at the back of the store. Their shelves were also full of grocery items that you could purchase while you were in there. South End was still popular in the ’70s when my husband, Peter, and I began our married life. It was our “go to” place for meat. Owners and brothers, Ted and Sal Salerni, would custom cut whatever we wanted. I remember they were quite disappointed when I told them I didn’t like meat that was “marbled.” They couldn’t convince me that it was more tender that way!

Another mid-size store that had a meat section was California Fruit Market at 186 West Street. If you went strictly by its name you would expect to shop there for fruit, but meat along with numerous grocery items could be found there. The meat was nicely displayed at the front of the store. When I was a child in the ’50s, I remember seeing owner, Tony Poalino, behind the meat counter. By the late ’70s, the next owner, Mike Henry, had the honor of providing customers with meat. On Sunday afternoons my husband and I would stop there to get steaks on our way home from a summer afternoon at Lake Bomoseen. They were a delicious treat on the grill. The wives of both Tony and Mike had an active role in the store. The Poalinos’ son, Dick, also worked there. Running the store was a family affair.

Smaller in size than the three previously mentioned stores but another great place to purchase meat was Carrigan’s Market at 47 Woodstock Ave. Owner Marty Carrigan could be found behind the meat counter and his wife, Mary (Mae), was often at the cash register up front. Their son, Tommy, also worked at the store — another family venture.

There were too many neighborhood grocery stores to mention individually. It was a way of life back in the ’50s to be able to walk to a nearby store and get the essentials. Most families only had one car and the husband usually drove it to work. The majority of their wives were “stay-at-home-moms,” so when they needed something at the neighborhood grocery store they often sent their children to pick up the items. In my neighborhood we went to Pete’s Market on Terrill Street. That store even had a small meat counter. It seems like meat was the draw to getting customers inside many stores back in the day.

In the good weather kids would ride their bikes and put the items in a basket that was attached to the handlebars. We were given money for a popsicle or ice cream sandwich which we “scarfed down” before we headed back home on our bikes.

Life was pretty simple back in those days and the older one gets the more appealing a simple life looks!

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