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Look Back Elyria: Memories of the corner store

  • Hales-Finer-Foods-1930s-Look-back-elyria

    The interior of Hales Finer Foods at 715 Middle Avenue, circa 1930s.

    COURTESY Richard Hales

  • Hales-Superette-Look-back-elyria

    By the late 1940s, A. O. Hales’s sons John and Ellsworth took over management of the store, renamed it “Hales Superette” and, in the early 1960s, built the front addition. Photo circa 1960s.

    COURTESY Richard Hales

  • Hales-Superette-1970s-Look-back-Elyria

    A color photo of Hales Superette, known informally to customers as Hales Market, circa 1970s.

    COURTESY Richard Hales

  • Hales-Grocery-look-back-elyria

    In 1975, John Hales’s sons Richard and Gary took over the store, renaming it Hales Grocery. This photo was taken in 2017 on the day that it was demolished.

    COURTESY Richard Hales

  • Flossie-and-John-Hales-look-back-elyria

    John Hales (1920-2011), right, a son of store founder Albert O. Hales, with his wife, Flora “Flossie” Hales (1926-2015), circa 2009.

    COURTESY Richard Hales

  • Richard-Hales-look-back-elyria

    Richard Hales, seated in his Elyria home on March 11, 2018, holds a memory book signed by customers who came in to shop one last time during the store’s final weeks.

    Marci Rich

  • Hales-Ham-Loaf-look-back-elyria

    Hales Market was famous for its ham loaf, prepared from a recipe created by Ethel Hales, known affectionately as “Grandma Hales,” wife of founder Albert. The closely guarded secret recipe was passed down through the family; Richard Hales still makes it today.

    Marci Rich

  • Frank-s-Foodway-Market-Look-back-elyria

    John DeTillio, left, and owner Phil Gerdine (1916-1990) in the meat department of Frank’s Foodway Market, 1412 West Avenue. DeTillio, Gerdine’s brother-in-law, worked part-time in the store through the mid-1950s, which is likely when this photo was taken.

    Fran Gerdine Zimmerman

  • Frank-s-ad-look-back-elyria

    Detail from a program given to attendees of the Riverside Homes and Southside Reunion Banquet at Wagner’s Country Inn on August 31, 2002.

    COURTESY Fran Gerdine Zimmerman

  • Capt-E-Z-store-look-back-elyria

    Former Chronicle-Telegram photographer Bob Bailie shot this detail of the old Capt. E-Z store on Middle Avenue while he was an art student at Cleveland’s Cooper School of Art in the 1970s.

    Bob Bailie

  • John-Dobrowski-look-back-elyria

    John Dobrowski (1888-1972), owner of the South End Market at the corner of Middle Avenue and West 15th Street for 60 years, stands in front of a self-serve cooler in his store, circa 1935.

    COURTESY Jack Golski

  • Dobrowski-store-look-back-elyria

    South End Food Market, 1415 Middle Avenue, at the corner of West 15th Street, viewed from the vantage point of the Dobrowski family home across the street, at 1518 Middle Avenue. Circa 1935.

    COURTESY Jack Golski

  • Josephine-and-JohnDobrowski

    Josephine and John Dobrowski, owners of the South End Food Market, standing on the front porch step of their home on Middle Avenue, circa 1940.

    COURTESY Jack Golski

  • Abookire-Grocery-and-family-look-back-elyria

    The grocery store owned by Marci Rich’s family, located at 1621 Middle Avenue, is seen in the background. (Rear L-R): Angela Abookire, Marci’s mother; Anthony H. and Marie Abookire, Marci’s grandparents and the store’s original owners. (Front L-R): Marci Abookire Rich and Sharon Sofra Kessler, Marci’s late cousin. Circa 1961.

    COURTESY Marci Rich

  • Original-Abookire-Grocery-look-back-elyria

    The original Abookire grocery store, which was also located at 1621 Middle Avenue, circa 1951.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Abookire-Grocery-original-store-look-back-elyria

    A detail of the original Abookire grocery store at 1621 Middle Avenue, circa 1941.

    COURTESY Marci Rich

  • Norma-Nuny-Abookire-at-Old-Store-look-back-elyria

    Norma “Nuny” Abookire stands on the front lawn of her home on Middle Avenue, with the Abookire Grocery Store in the background, circa 1949.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Abookire-grocery-store-look-back-elyria

    Norman Abookire, son of the original owners of the Abookire grocery store (and Marci Rich’s uncle), stands at the rear of the first store in May 1951. He took over management several years earlier.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Abookire-grocery-Mary-look-back-elyria

    Mary Beres Abookire, daughter-in-law of original store owners and husband of Norman, who became its manager in 1948, at the cash register in the original Abookire grocery store, located at 1621 Middle Avenue. Photo from May 1951.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Nuny-at-new-store-look-back-elyria

    Norma “Nuny” Abookire stands in the parking lot of the “new” Abookire grocery store, built on the store’s original site at 1621 Middle Avenue, circa 1955.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Abookire-store-sign-look-back-elyria

    Norman Abookire, at right, stands with unidentified man beneath the sign of his grocery store at the corner of Middle Avenue and 17th Street, circa 1955.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Stocking-the-shelves-abookire-grocery-look-back-elyria

    An unidentified employee of the Abookire Grocery Store stocking a shelf, circa 1955.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Chuck-Bashak-Abookire-grocery-look-back-elyria

    : Chuck Bashak, Abookire Grocery employee, cuts a steak in the meat department, circa 1955.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Inside-the-new-store-abookire-grocery-look-back-elyria

    An interior view of the new Abookire grocery store features some of the items available to shoppers, including an “ice-cold” bottle of Coca-Cola from a vending machine, circa 1955.

    COURTESY Norma Abookire

  • Evergreen-Food-Store-look-back-elyria

    Three happy schoolgirls in front of the gumball machine at the Evergreen Food Store at 1115 East Avenue, circa 1971. Store owner Jack Jacoby (1909-1984), seen at rear, enjoyed the children who came to the store every day, often with a note from a parent with instructions for their purchases.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Look-Back-Elyria-Jack-Jacoby-Evergreen-Food-Store

    Jack Jacoby, owner of the Evergreen Food Store, with his son Danny, circa 1955.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Evergreen-Food-Store-Look-Back-Elyria-1

    The Evergreen Food Store, 1115 East Avenue, circa 1940. Note the long-handled stick at the right side of the Birdseye cooler. Jacoby used it to grab out-of-reach items on the store’s uppermost shelves for his customers.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Evergreen-Food-Store-Look-Back-Elyria-2

    A view of the rear of the Evergreen Food Store, circa 1963.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Katherine-Jacoby-Evergreen-Food-Store-Look-Back-Elyria

    Katherine Jacoby, wife of Jack Jacoby, was known in the neighborhood as “Missus Jack.” Photo circa 1970.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Evergreen-Food-Store-Look-Back-Elyria-3

    Jack and Katherine Jacoby, owners of the Evergreen Food Store at 1115 East Avenue, lived in the upstairs apartment of this building at the left, which was separated from their store by a small “no outlet” alley. Photo circa 1943.

    Sharlet Jacoby Berman

  • Angie-s-City-Chicken-Look-Back-Elyria

    Angela Abookire’s hand-written recipe for city chicken, scanned by her daughter, Marci Rich.

    COURTESY Marci Rich

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Children on Elyria’s south side in the ’50s and ’60s didn’t have far to walk for their penny candy. Bounded by 10 blocks between 17th Street to the south and 7th Street to the north, no fewer than eight small grocery stores dotted Middle, West and East avenues.

We lived on East 15th Street, and our primary shopping destination was the South End Market on the corner, at 1415 Middle Ave. We never called it that, though. My mother sent me to “Dombrowski’s Market,” adding an “m” where there was none. It was only when I interviewed Jack Golski, a grandson of the store’s founders, that my childhood error was corrected.

To get there, I had to be old enough to cross Middle Avenue, which would put me at around age 5, a seasoned graduate of Safety Town. My mother’s list in hand, and giddy at the prospect of being allowed to buy something for myself, I reached the corner and looked south, waiting for a lull in the traffic. At the concrete and grass oval separating the opposing lanes, I paused again, this time looking north. The squat, wood-framed building beckoned, its large, plate-glass windows flanking two center doors, and I stepped up the riser to enter. The air inside smelled vegetal and fruity, with notes of Pine-Sol and soap. My purchases—Wonder Bread, some freshly sliced bologna, celery encased in a blue and clear plastic bag and a similarly wrapped head of iceberg lettuce—filled the paper bag, which I juggled on the walk home with the Popsicle I’d chosen from the freezer case at the front of the store. The confection melted down my fingers, staining them a sticky orange—a satisfying reward.

It is difficult to imagine today, but in 1963 some 38 family-owned grocery stores were situated throughout Elyria. My count does not include the corporate “chains”—the A & P, of which there were four; the two Second Street stores, Fisher Foods and Kroger’s; or North Ridgeville’s Pick-N-Pay. Nor am I counting Lawson’s Milk Stores, of which there were also four—on Middle Avenue, Cleveland Street, Lake Avenue and East Broad. Convenient Food Mart had yet to appear on the scene; that came later, when the owners of Elyria Dairies (also known by its brand name, Sunshine Farms), formed the North Central Ohio Convenient Food Mart, thus giving rise to ConSun Foods and the first Convenient Food store in the franchise, in Lorain, Ohio, in 1965.

Sometime after 1963, the legendary Captain E-Z’s emerged on Middle Avenue, popular with Elyria High School students for the close proximity it offered to candy, pop and comic books.

The harsh, contemporary challenges of life in a food desert were unknown. People walked up the street to buy the fixings for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The South End Market and Hales Finer Foods even delivered.

The families who owned these stores, including their children, worked long hours every week providing food and a gathering place for their neighborhoods. Jack and Katherine Jacoby, owners of the Evergreen on East Avenue, never took a vacation in the 40 years that they managed their store.

The grocers featured here were immigrants and first-generation Americans. My grandparents, who founded Abookire’s Grocery and Meats, emigrated from Beirut, Lebanon. John and Josephine Dobrowski of the South End Market were Polish immigrants. Albert and Ethel Hales, who started Hales Finer Foods, crossed the pond from England. And the Jacobys of the Evergreen arrived from Austria-Hungary and West Prussia. Although born in Girard, Ohio, Philip Gerdine, owner of Frank’s Market, was a first-generation American. His parents came from Italy, but his wife, co-owner Ann (née Polimene), was born in Reggio-Calabria.

There were connections between some of these stores. In 1912, according to a 1971 Chronicle-Telegram article by Connie Davis, Albert and Ethel Hales started their first grocery by taking over a small market at 1217 West Ave. Many years later, that site would become McDonald’s Grocery, but not before another south side store, Dobrowski’s South End Market, took up residence between the years of its founding in 1915 and its ultimate location on Middle Avenue. Stanley Sharp, Ethel Hales’ brother, owned a grocery that he eventually sold to Philip and Ann Gerdine, who renamed it Frank’s Market.

There’s some question about the location of Dobrowski’s first market. A Chronicle article by Norma Conaway, published Oct. 12, 1963, contends that it began “in a residence where Supreme Hardware is now located.” My father, George Abookire, owned Supreme Hardware at 1701 Middle Ave. (That’s a story for another day.) But Dobrowski grandson Jack Golski checked with his aunt, Pauline Dobrowski Cyran. She maintains that her parents’ first store was where my grandfather’s first grocery store would later be, at 1621 Middle Ave. Despite the confusion—hardware or groceries—threads of some businesses crisscrossed with others to form the tapestry that became Elyria’s bustling south side.

It is a sad irony that among the family-owned stores featured here, the last to remain open was the first to disappear from the streetscape. Hales closed in 2005 and was torn down in 2017. The other buildings remain, recognizable for what they once were only to those who shopped there decades ago, and who remember the food, flavors and stories contained within their walls as important markers of their lives.

Dobrowski’s store is vacant. The Evergreen is today home to the East Avenue Market, a catering enterprise that also serves carryout sandwiches, salads and chicken wings. There appears to be a market in the old Frank’s Foodway, but a sign on the door stated that it would be closed in January for remodeling. When I was in Elyria on Feb. 23, it was still closed, the sign still there. The Abookire market is now a food pantry run by the Asbury United Methodist Church next-door, open on the first and third Saturday of each month, according to Kim Jones-Beal, treasurer of the church.

It is heartening that a couple of these places still provide food to the south side, but there’s nothing now that can compare with what used to be.

Abookire’s Grocery & Meats
Founded in 1923
1621 Middle Ave.
(Four-Digit Phone Number in 1955): 2066
Owners: Anthony H. and Marie Abookire (1923-1948)
Norman and Mary Abookire (1948-1962)
Closed by 1963

Anthony and Marie Abookire, my grandparents, emigrated from Beirut, Lebanon, settling in Elyria in 1919. The following year, my grandfather established the city’s first Army surplus store, on West Broad Street, but his true calling was the grocery business. He and my grandmother opened their market at 1621 Middle Avenue in 1923, managing it until 1948, when their son, my Uncle Norman, and his first wife Mary took over. In what becomes a recurring theme throughout this article, the Abookires lived close to one another and to the businesses: my grandparents initially lived across the street from the store, then purchased a home next to the Asbury Church, next to their grocery. Norman and his family lived across the street on Middle Avenue before moving to East 15th Street. My parents and I lived next door to Norman’s family. My Aunt Gloria and her family lived across the street from the grocery; she also worked there for a time. No matter which way you turned, aunts, uncles and cousins were close at hand.

Photographs in my collection, and those shared by my cousin Norma, reveal that the original Abookire grocery was a small brick building set close to Middle Avenue. At some point in the late ’50s, the first store was torn down to make way for the new, which was set farther back from the street to provide parking in front. I asked Norma, whom everyone calls Nuny, to share her memories. She graduated from Elyria High School in 1961 and now lives in Cleveland.

“I remember Luke Easter visiting the store,” she wrote in an email. (Easter was once a first baseman for the Cleveland Indians.) “I was sitting on the ice cream cooler and there he was. Too bad I didn’t get a signature.”

Both of our fathers served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Norman, wrote Nuny, “was so enamored with his stint in the service that he had a sign designed for the store with the Third Armored Division logo.”

In one of the letters that my father wrote home to his parents when he was in the service, he alludes to the hardships endured by many grocery owners: “Try and not work too hard Ma as I don’t want you to. I’d like to see you & Pa on a vacation this year.”

Elyria’s Family-Owned Grocery Stores in 1963

This list of family-owned dairy, grocery and meat markets, culled from the 1963 Elyria City Directory, does not include the corporate “chains” (the four A & P stores, the four Lawson’s Milk Stores, Fisher Foods and Kroger’s) or stores in North Ridgeville. Isaly’s, although a chain, was nevertheless family owned. The Abookire Grocery Store, featured in this article, went out of business prior to 1963 and was not listed in that year’s directory.

B & B Food Market, 327 Lake Ave.

Billow’s Variety, 515 Clark St.

Block’s Grocery, 830 West Ave.

C & J Superette, 125 Hilliard Road

Cascade Grocery, 969 West River Road, North

Dodsley’s Cash Market, 432 Cleveland St.

Don’s Food Market, 2002 Lake Ave.

East Side Food Store, 300 East River Road

Eastgate Variety Store, 616 Prospect St.

Elyria Dairies, 123 Lake Ave.

Evergreen Food Store, 1115 East Ave.

Fell’s Market, 1501 Grafton Road

Frank’s Foodway Market, 1412 West Ave.

Griswold Rd. Meat Market, 1627 W. Griswold Road

Hales Finer Foods, 715 Middle Ave.

Isaly’s Cleveland Street Store, 360 Cleveland St.

Isaly’s Dairy Store, 346 Broad St.

Lindale Food Market, 2110 Middle Ave.

Lindway Market, 913 Lake Ave.

Madara’s Creamery, 901 East Ave.

Maiher’s Grocer & Meats, 98 Courtland

McDonald’s Grocery, 1217 West Ave.

Molosky’s Grocery, 1401 East Ave.

Norris Grocery & Meats, 1701 Lake Ave.

O’Brien’s Food Fair, 208 Cleveland St.

Packinghouse Market, 565 Broad St.

Pallas Dairy, 800 West River Road, North

Pete’s Foodtowne, 104 Oak St.

Phil & Harve’s Foodway Market, 422 Lake Ave.

Rolings Food Market, 320 E. Broad St.

Ross Grocery 309 18th St.

Salyi’s Market, 387 Furnace St.

Schmidt’s Food Market, 821 East River Road

Smith G. A. (G.A. Smith Grocery), 108 Irondale

South End Food Market, 1415 Middle Ave.

Vargo’s Market, 900 Lake Ave.

Wooden’s Food Market, 442 Cleveland St.

Wycosky’s Fine Foods, 602 Lodi St.

Evergreen Food Store
1115 East Ave.Founded in 1935
Phone Number in 1963: FA3-1727
Owners: Jack and Katherine Jacoby
Closed in 1975

“My father was lucky to get out of Europe when he did,” said Sharlet Jacoby Berman of Mayfield Heights. “So was my mother.”

Sharlet’s parents were Jewish. Jack Jacoby, born in Austria-Hungary in 1909, was one of five sons whose father made the voyage to America, became a citizen, and settled into a job—first in Cleveland, then in Lorain—before making five trips back to Europe in the early 1920s to bring over his wife and sons. With each return to Europe, said Sharlet, her grandfather had to sneak back in.

“If he’d been caught, he would have been conscripted, as well as the young boys.”

The story was similar for Sharlet’s mother Katherine. Her father had served in the Prussian Army during the First World War, and was aware of the political climate in post-war Europe. When Katherine was 10, he gathered her up with the rest of the family, took them to the cemetery so they could say goodbye to their ancestors, and brought them to America. Katherine met and married Jack in Lorain; they moved to Elyria and opened the Evergreen in 1935.

In addition to Sharlet, who graduated from Elyria High School in 1957, Jack and Katherine had a son, Dovid, called “Danny,” who lives in Israel.

Sharlet wrote in an email that food was scarce during the Second World War and tightly controlled by the government through ration books and tokens, making extra paperwork for grocers.

“Holiday times really saw short supplies,” she wrote.

The Evergreen purchased used fat from its customers during the war.

“The housewife would collect it in a glass jar and take it to the store to be weighed.” Jack then bought the fat and sent it on to a government agency for use in the war effort. He also built a room behind the store to stockpile purchases before items became unavailable; a supplier had warned him that some commodities, like soap, which contained coconut oil, would become scarce.

Sharlet worked in the market as a child.

“I did everything,” she said. “Clerking, stocking shelves, whatever was needed at the moment. If a neighbor came in and couldn’t carry her things home, I would take the stuff home for her.”

She often accompanied Jack when he drove to the Cleveland Food Terminal or to local farms to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.

She remembers children bringing in empty soda pop bottles for the 2-cent deposit: “Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Nehi orange or grape, Dad’s and Hires’ Root Beer, Royal Crown Cola, Cotton Club Crème Soda, and Clocquet Club Quinine water and soda. Funny, these glass bottles never got broken but milk bottles often did.”

The store was small, only 40-feet long and 18-feet wide, but the vast array of merchandise Sharlet recounted suggests an emporium: cleansers and clothes pins and Mason jars; fly paper and moth balls; bananas in a container called a “banana boat;” cigars in mahogany wood boxes and Bond Street pipe tobacco; cigarettes; Barbasol and Burma shave creams; Ipana and Pepsodent toothpowder in cans; Dandee potato chips; milk from Bauer Dairy, Dairyman or Sealtest; Ovaltine; Postum (a coffee substitute); Log Cabin Maple Syrup in a metal log-cabin-shaped container; flour and canned fruits and vegetables and yeast and so much more.

On Dec. 18, 1984, a few days after Jack died, The Chronicle honored him with an encomium, which read, in part: He “never cared much about material things … he preferred to be around people instead, and to help them when he could.” Jack and Katherine, known fondly as “Missus Jack,” were fixtures on East Avenue, remembered and respected for their love of the children who frequented the store.

“He was patient with them,” The Chronicle wrote, “gave them the benefit of his wisdom, and kept track of them when they left town to go to school and start careers of their own.”

A poster that hung in the store window, made by Katherine, displayed photos of the children and included this original “Missus Jack” poem:

Stop and take 
a look or two
‘Cause you may
recognize a few.
Whether they’re little
or 6 feet tall
They’re a swell
group of kids
And we like
them all.

This, and a collection of photographs and reminiscences, was bound into a privately published book, “And Yet It Stands,” that Katherine began writing in 1970. The pages recount the store’s Depression days, the shortages and rationing of World War II, and, above all, stories about the beloved neighborhood children.

My mother and Katherine were friends. I often walked with her when she visited the Jacoby’s upstairs apartment. Before heading home, we stopped by the store. I was fascinated by Jack’s long wooden stick, with tongs and a hook at the end, which he used to grab a roll of something or other from the top shelf behind the counter.

In Connie Davis’s last column for The Chronicle, published on July 1, 1981, she featured the Jacobys and their store. She shared anecdotes from Katherine’s book, stories like the young neighborhood mothers who came in to weigh their babies on the food scales, or the little boy who used them to weigh his own hands, “calculating that dirty hands weighed more than clean ones.”

A passage from Katherine’s preface was prophetic:

“The neighborhood store is gradually disappearing from sight, good only for the record in years to come, when Grandma and Grandpa may tell their darling grandchildren the way they remember it; when one ran to Jack’s the friendly neighborhood grocer, for emergency items in time of need, or perhaps for a loaf of bread or a quart of milk, late in the evening….”

Frank’s Foodway Market

Founded in 1942
1412 West Ave.
Phone number in 1963: FA2-7828
Owners: Philip and Ann Gerdine
Sold to new owners circa 1985

On Sundays, after Mass at Holy Cross Church on West Avenue, my mother and I often stopped at Frank’s Market across the street before walking home. We bought natural casing hot dogs, which she boiled in water and served for lunch on hot dog buns with mustard or ketchup. This would have been sometime in the early 1960s, after Ohio repealed its “blue law,” which had prohibited stores from being open on Sundays.

Fran Gerdine Zimmerman of Westlake, Phil and Ann Gerdine’s daughter, wrote in an email that on a typical day, Monday through Saturday, her father woke up around 5 a.m., had a cup of instant coffee, and went down to the store, working from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. After the “blue law” was repealed, his Sundays began with early Mass at St. Mary’s, then back to the store, which he kept open until noon. Ann worked in the store from about 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and two of Fran’s uncles, John DeTillio and Frank Polimene, worked there part-time before leaving in the mid-1950s for other ventures.

The sense we had that ours was a close-knit neighborhood was reinforced by the fact that everyone seemed to know, or be related to, everyone else. Ann Polimene Gerdine’s parents, Francesca and Stefano, lived on our street and were family friends; my mother often sent me to their yard to pick fresh mint. Ann and Phil Gerdine bought their store from the Sharps in 1942, who were related to Ethel Hales of Hales’ Market. Ann Gerdine’s sister Mary was married to George “Bucky” Ross, who owned the White Horse Custard Stand on West Avenue, where we went in the summer for cones.

In Elyria, there were fewer than six degrees of separation.

The neighborhood, wrote Fran, was “lively,” and provided everything everyone could ever want or need: Herb’s Laundrymat, Sito’s Polish Village, Gigi’s Barber Shop, Mitchell’s BBQ, the custard stand and Halliburton’s Dry Cleaners. On Fridays, people walked to the Polish Club for carryout fish fry.

“Everyone looked out for everyone else,” she wrote, and there was no competition between the stores, each took care of its own neighborhood.

The Gerdines lived above the store, Fran’s parents settling first in the largest of the three upstairs apartments. Her aunt and uncle, Angelina and John DeTillio, lived in the next-largest apartment. And before Fran’s grandparents, the Polimenes, moved to East 15th, they lived in the smallest one. In 1956, when Fran was 3, her family moved to Miami Avenue, but the empty apartment was soon inhabited by another aunt and uncle, Edith “Toodie” and Frank Polimene.

Why wasn’t Frank’s Market called Phil’s Market, after its owner? Most likely, wrote Fran, because Elyria already had a grocery store with Phil in its name (Phil and Harve’s on Lake Avenue). “Grandma Polimene suggested the name of Frank’s for Uncle Frank.”

Her dad sold “everything” in his store, she wrote, and the list she shared is dizzying: Penny candy, candy bars, Now & Laters, Boston Baked Beans, Sugar Babies, Red Hots, Lemonheads, Sky Bars, Razzles, Life Savers, and Certs. Playing cards, batteries, lighters, cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, tweezers, Vick’s inhalers, shampoo, hairnets, rubbing alcohol, Mercurochrome, Bactine, crayons and rulers. There was an ice cream case, of course, canned fruits, vegetables and pet food, and areas devoted to frozen foods, dairy, and cleaning products.

“Bread was delivered every weekday except Wednesday by drivers from bakeries like Wonder, Nickles, and Laub,” she wrote. “I remember the drivers. There were chip deliveries and pop and beer and wine deliveries. The back of the store was the full-service meat counter. My dad was a wonderful butcher and people came from all over to buy the steaks and roasts. I remember having headcheese, tongue, chitterlings, pigs ears and feet and all the delicacies of the era.”

If this seems like a lot, Fran points out that shoppers did not have access to the variety of items that we enjoy today. Only one type of mustard was available for those hotdogs of ours, and Cleveland’s Stadium Mustard wasn’t one of them.

“A lot of families in the neighborhood had store credit,” Fran wrote. “They would get groceries and my dad would let them charge it and make payments or pay the bill off on payday. I have had numerous people tell me, when they found out who I was, what a blessing it was to be able to charge items and to pay later.”

Fran wrote that Sam, her older brother, played football in a field next to the store in the late 1940s, before a parking lot was built there. The store was originally heated by coal, which was delivered and dumped down a coal chute next to the back door on 15th Street.

“Sam remembers that you had to take a big round bucket and carry the coal to the furnace,” wrote Fran. “It was eventually replaced with a boiler.”

Another chute sent grocery deliveries to the basement, where inventory was stored, then carried upstairs for shelving. “That was tiring,” Fran wrote, “so my dad soon had the deliveries made to the garage on the store level. They were put on dollies and taken to the correct aisle.”

With Sam, Fran worked in the store, typically at the cash register.

“To this day, I would rather bag my own groceries. Gotta use every square inch of the bag.”

She graduated from Elyria Catholic High School in 1971, and reports that her favorite store memory dates from the early 1960s, when Henri Mae Ogle taught her how to do the twist in the cereal aisle.

Hales Finer Foods
Founded in 1912 on West Avenue
Established in 1919 at 715 Middle Ave.
Phone Number in 1963: FA2-3125
Owners: Albert O. and Ethel Hales (1912-1948)
Ellsworth and John Hales (1948-1975)
Richard and Gary Hales (1975-2005)
Closed in 2005, torn down in 2017

Richard Hales of Elyria, whose grandparents, Albert and Ethel Hales, founded the store that became an institution on Middle Avenue for 87 years, gets up from an ottoman in his living room to retrieve something meaningful to him.

“This was my daughter Angie’s idea,” he said, handing me a large, spiral-bound book. Notes of gratitude fill its pages, written by customers who came in to make final purchases, and say goodbye, in the store’s waning days.

Richard will be 66 in May. He said he and his brother Gary “basically grew up in the store. I was on the books by the age of nine.” They stocked shelves, bagged groceries and, when they were old enough to drive, made deliveries. Richard and his brother brought groceries to our side door many times after my father died in 1969, and my mother decided that driving wasn’t for her.

John Hales, Richard’s father, and his brother Ellsworth joined the business after World War II, and purchased the store from their parents in 1948. Albert died in 1963, but Grandma Hales was still working at the counter until she was 89, wrote Connie Davis in a 1995 article for The Chronicle. It was a quintessential family business, one that Richard and Gary took on in 1975 and saw through to the end.

“When we were younger, my father and my uncle would go in on Friday nights and stock the shelves,” Richard said. ''We would spend the evening down there. Uncle Ells would process the meat for the next day and we’d be carrying boxes of groceries down on the shelves. When we got home, mom (John’s wife Flossie) would make us a root beer float, so that kind of incentive helped.”

Working together as a family was a tradition established when Albert and Ethel arrived from England, starting out with only $500 and a positive attitude. The couple took over a small grocery store on West Avenue in 1912, living above the building. An earlier Chronicle article by Connie Davis, in 1971, recounted those beginnings:

Since few people had telephones, Albert daily made the round of homes in the area in a horse-drawn buggy, soliciting orders to be delivered next day. Calls took him out Oberlin Road as far as the present Route 10 junction.

Albert and Ethel were still living above the store when their first three children, Lawrence, Irene and Ellsworth, were born; John came along after the family had moved to a new home farther north on West Avenue.

Grandma Hales was as famous for the pies she used to bake, which were sold in the store to help the family survive the Depression, as she was for her devotion to the business.

She was also famous for her ham loaf. Her recipe, like the formula for Colonel Sanders’s fried chicken, remains a highly classified document. No amount of prodding could convince Richard to share it with me for this article, although he did give me a frozen loaf to take home.

So popular was the ham loaf sold in the store that he presented his father with an idea: “I said, ‘Dad, why don’t we go ahead and make the ham loaves as an oven-ready freezer product?’ The idea took off like crazy. We still have people who ask for that ham loaf.”

Richard and Gary remodeled the rear of the store to accommodate a production facility. They passed state inspections and sold loaves to a handful of other stores in Ohio for several years.

“We were also able to ship one or two loaves at a time to residents in 15 other states,” said Richard. He told Connie Davis in 1995 that he once put up 170 pounds of the meaty delicacy for a church banquet in Elyria, but “declined to give the recipe to a visiting missionary who wanted to take it back to New Zealand.”

Angie-s-City-Chicken-Look-Back-Elyria

Angela Abookire’s hand-written recipe for city chicken, scanned by her daughter, Marci Rich.

COURTESY Marci Rich Enlarge


City Chicken
I remember my mother ordering city chicken from Hales. She made it often when I was a child, serving it with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. Since the recipe shown here, written in her hand, is vague, I’ve included one adapted from “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.” According to the book, city chicken was a staple during the Depression, when—difficult to believe—chicken was more expensive than veal or pork. My mother, who was from Lorain, lived through the Depression, so this is a meal that would have been familiar to her.

1 pound pork, trimmed, in 1-inch cubes
1 pound lean veal or skinned, boned chicken in 1-inch cubes
1 egg, slightly beaten
1-1/2 cups freshly made or prepared breadcrumbs
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup homemade or store-bought chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Place alternating cubes of pork and veal or chicken on eight wooden skewers. (The city chicken from Hales would arrive “dressed for dinner” in its little skewers.) Push the meat cubes together snugly. Mix the egg with 1 tablespoon water and dip the skewered meat in it. Roll meat in the crumbs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and brown the meat lightly. Add ½ cup of the chicken broth, cover, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining ½ cup of chicken broth and add it to the pan juices, cooking and stirring until thickened. Serve the skewers with sauce poured over them.

In a phone interview, Richard said that when they closed the store, they took orders for 1,000 pounds of ham loaf for Hales’s customers. And although Richard still makes them for family today, he has declined to make them widely available again. At least for now.

Hales was also famous for its prime meats and homemade sausage. One of Richard’s cousins, Sharron Vanek of Elyria, lamented, “I miss them so much. They had the best hamburger.” Her mother, Bessie Hales, was married to John and Ellsworth’s brother Lawrence. Bessie also worked in the store.

Irene, Albert and Ethel’s only daughter, moved with her own daughter, Carol Gerber Czarnecki, to the downstairs Hales apartment after separating from her husband. She, too, went to work in the store.

“I was very close to my grandparents,” said Carol, who lives in Elyria. “Every Sunday my mother and I ate dinner with them—roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a typical English dinner.”

About a month before the closing, when word began to get out, Richard said that “it was kind of exciting.” People came out to reminisce while they shopped, and the prospects of a different future seemed tantalizing. But as the weeks wore on, he said, the excitement gave way to sadness.

“All you could think about was all the memories, and everything that happened on that corner for (almost) 90 years. These people were more than customers. They became your friends.”

He still has a letter from a third-generation customer who, when she found out Hales was closing, came in one day in tears. She told Richard that she couldn’t sleep the night before, she was so upset, and so she handed him a five-page letter that she wrote, “I just had to get this out,” she said.

“I didn’t read it until later,” said Richard, and he said that when he finally did, he was in tears. “The day we closed, when we turned the key for the last time, I remember Jean Bowen coming in. ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ she asked.”


The South End Market
Founded in 1915
1415 Middle Ave.
Phone number in 1963: FA2-9928
Owners: John and Josephine Dobrowski
Closed in 1971

Jack Golski’s memories of the South End Market are the sharpest at Easter. His grandparents, John and Josephine Dobrowski, were Polish immigrants who arrived in Elyria as children; their parents had been friends in Europe. John had a smokehouse at the back of his Middle Avenue store where he smoked Easter kielbasa and hams. Reporter Norma Conaway, writing for The Chronicle on Oct. 12, 1963, on the occasion of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, asked him what it took to make good Polish sausage.

“Good pork, good veal and good beef and just the right spices,” he carefully replied. “Of course, you have to know exactly what spices to use and how much.”

Like the Hales family ham loaf, Dobrowski’s kielbasa recipe was a closely guarded secret, aided by the fact that it was, as Jack said, “stored in his head.”

“Life for my grandparents centered around two blocks in Elyria,” Golski wrote in an email. “Work at the store, church and school at Holy Cross and socializing at the Polish Club.”

This was an exceedingly full life. John and Josephine raised 11 children while maintaining the grueling hours demanded by their grocery store. Still, John found time to become the first president of the Elyria United Polish Club, a president of the Holy Name Society and president of the Cleveland Food Dealers Association.

The 1963 article noted that in the early days Josephine “clerked, cut meat and now and then took time off to raise her family.”

Like Jack Jacoby, John Dobrowski drove to Cleveland each week to buy his produce. He went regularly to stockyards in Creston for livestock, and owned two large farms in Oberlin where he had a slaughtering house. In 1963, at the age of 75, he was still butchering his own meat; letting anyone else do it was not an option. As he told Conaway, “I wouldn’t be satisfied with it.” He did pay others to raise wheat, corn, oats and hay on 262 acres of land that he owned off Diagonal Road.

Grandson Jack Golski graduated from Elyria Catholic High School in 1965, lives in Amherst and retired from his Westlake dental practice last year. He remembers close proximity to extended family. John and Josephine lived on the corner of Middle Avenue and East 16th Street, one block from the store. Jack and his parents, Dan and Sophie, lived nearby on 16th. Another Dobrowski daughter, Mary Rybarcyk, lived on the corner of Middle Avenue and East 15th, directly across from the store.

“Since we lived so close, my dad and everyone in our family, and the Rybarcyks, worked there at one time or another, as did all of the aunts.”

He remembers his grandfather delivering groceries around town in his panel truck, and Cleveland Indians day games playing on the store radio. John Dobrowski was a huge fan.

Josephine died in March 1971. Three months later, John shuttered the store. Thirteen months after that, at the age of 84, he, too, was gone, and an era passed into memory.

 

Contact Marci Rich at marci.keyword@gmail.com.



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