THERE ARE MANY who remember the every now and again quasi editorials written by Alameda Times-Star's the owner-publisher, the highly respected Abe Kofman.
These pieces, which appeared whenever there was something that spurred the observation, were titled something to the effect of "Alameda ain't like it used to be."
For better or worse, the same phrase holds true today and has likely been uttered by many longtime Alamedans.
Robert Joe Hopping, who goes by "Joe," has forwarded three of his recollections, one of which provides not only subject matter for this week, but an outlet for Hopping's obvious creative talents.
With only moderate editing (mostly for space purposes), here are his recollections of Shaeffers Fancy Grocery Store:
Most of the stock of this successful grocery store was of the grade 'Fancy,' a title for foodstuffs without peer. "Fancy" included fresh produce. Shaeffers was located on the west side of Park Street (and when I was) 16-17 years of age I worked there sometimes after school but usually Saturdays 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with an hour off for lunch.
The Shaeffers brothers, owners of the store, were Al, Gus and George. Each wore a hat, a pencil on his left ear to write orders, long leather aprons to protect their clothing while handling wooden boxes of fruits like cherries or vegetables like asparagus. My favorite was Gus, who was very good natured and also issued paychecks. Al was a little sour and sparse with words unless you were a good customer. George happily drove the brass-nosed Ford delivery truck when not needed to wait on customers.
Patronized by the usual occupants of the economic ladder, the most interesting patrons were the madams who arrived for their daily shopping chauffeured by limousines. They were dressed quite stylishly in long silken dresses with their valuable jewelry prominently displayed.
One of my jobs was to place and replace the produce in almost floral arrangements. I was told that in 1920, Alameda had the highest per capita income of any city, which might account for some of the mansions and limousines.
An enjoyable part of my job was to ride on the delivery truck and carry the phoned-in orders through tradesman's gates into the back door of the mansions. Given permission to enter the kitchen by a cook or other mansion employees, I would remove the goods from the delivery box and deposit the items on the kitchen counters. I always kept an eye out for the daughters who seemed to be the brightest and cutest girls in Alameda.
During this period, supermarkets entered the grocery business stocking a wider variety of newer goods than a small town grocery like Shaeffers. This presented a problem for us when a customer wanted a new product sold only at the supermarket and included it in a telephoned order. I would be hurriedly dispatched to the local 'super' to buy that item. It was interesting to note how a 35 cent box of Borax Soap Chips appeared on the customers' charge slip at 85 cents.
I liked sampling the fruit especially during what is known as the soft season. My family also liked sampling the ripe fruit I often brought home which would not make it to Monday if left in the store. One day while eating an orange I had peeled, Al Shaeffer came by (and) issued his ultimatum: 'Hey kid, if you must eat oranges on the job, then eat the 30 cents a dozen ones and leave the 60 cents a dozen ones alone.'
During my employment, FDR signed the National Recovery Act. Shaeffers immediately signed up (for the act which had) a provision for a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour or $16 per week whichever was least. At 22-and-a-half cents per hour, this captured my attention. Gus called to me after signing (and said) 'Hey boy, you are 18 aren't you?' 'Yes, sir,' I said (aging two years with my reply). Gus then said 'Boy, from now on you are getting a raise to $16 a week.'
This Alameda institution lasted until the early days of World War II when the retail grocery business changed dramatically with the shortages and substituted products like dried potatoes and the aging Shaeffers decided to retire.
Also the most profitable grocery customers had commenced moving away to Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette, Danville and Walnut Creek -- taking most of the 'fancy' business that remained with them."
There's lots of good nostalgia in his report and many readers can either relate to the specifics or to the era.
There are a scattered few of these independent grocery stores still around town, but around the Park Street area there's a large number of individuals and families still lamenting the closing of the wonderful Williams Brothers Market some years ago.
Year after year, the same checkers would be there, maybe tipping you off about some special upcoming buy or alert you to something you might overlook. It helped the store. It helped the customer -- with a personal touch that was valued and now missed.
All along the famed "Red Train" lines that carried folks to and from the ferries were the little shopping areas, each with tremendously popular stores. Here, store owners, clerks and customers were on a first-name basis and they made it a point to take good care of each other.
For the Currier family, it was easy to "run a round the corner" to Encinal Avenue and the Morton station area, or, maybe to Noyes meat market on Lincoln Avenue at probably the most memorable station of them all, the Bay Street Station.
Just as Abe Kofman observed years ago "Alameda ain't what it used to be." Check out Park and Webster streets or downtown Oakland if you have any doubts or need further evidence. RETURN TO TOP