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From Allen's and Arnie's to Zickau and Zwicky's

Fond du Lac had an abundance of grocery stores

9:49 PM, Oct. 7, 2013  |  Comments
Festival Foods grocery store in Fond du Lac encompasses approximately 76,800 square feet.
Festival Foods grocery store in Fond du Lac encompasses approximately 76,800 square feet.
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While recently loading bakery items into my van to take to the Broken Bread program, I couldn't help but notice a young woman coming out of Pick 'n Save on Johnson Street who was pushing a shopping cart completely full of groceries.

The first thing that came to my mind was how different grocery shopping is today from what it was years ago. The second thing I thought was, "I'm glad I don't have to pay for that cart full of food."

Back in the 1930s and 40s when we went grocery shopping we generally walked home from the store with what we needed all in one bag. Not so today.

Out of curiosity I decided to check in my 1946 Fond du Lac Telephone Directory to see just how many grocery stores there were in the city. From Allen's on Doty Street to Zwicky's on South Military Road, I counted 66 stores. There were 18 on Main Street alone - eight on North Main and 10 on South Main. Four of those were Calumet stores, two north and two south.

Most of them were family owned and located in the same building in which the owner resided. And just about all of them were small, one-room stores. No shopping carts were needed in those establishments.

But there also were a few larger stores such as the A and P Tea Co., two Kroger Stores and, of course, the Crouch Brothers who started in the grocery business at 409 S. Main St. and later constructed a new and larger store on the corner of 10th and Main streets.

The history of the Crouch Brothers started in 1944 as an IGA store and as time passed they constructed five different stores, becoming Sentry stores in 1964 and ending in 1999. Everyone loved to shop at Crouches.

Once again, curiosity got the better of me so I thought it might be interesting to compare the stores of long ago to the supermarkets of today. While I can't include all of those small stores, I picked some from my neighborhood. Naturally, I had to pick Elsie's (Zickau Grocery) on West Scott Street, which is now Becky's Cottage Floral. Taking my tape measure, I went and measured the building and also the room that once was the store.

The building is 32 feet wide and 45 feet long, but the store part was only 18 feet by 30 feet. My math tells me that 540 square feet is all Elsie had to work with.

Then I took a ride out to Festival Foods where the manager and an employee did some measuring for me. That store area measures 320 feet long and 240 feet wide - just a little bit bigger than Elsie's. To be exact, that square footage is 76,800. You could put 142 Elsie's in one Festival.

I didn't measure the South Pick 'n Save or Piggly Wiggly, but the manager on West Johnson Street tells me that their store has 65,000 square feet. Add Save-A-Lot to the mix and it sure adds up to a lot of square feet of grocery shopping.

While we didn't shop in many of the stores that weren't located in our neighborhood, we did have two more within two blocks of Elsie's. Wade's store was right next to Cleveland School and Errards store, run by two brothers, was located on the corner of Scott and Temperance streets.

While we did most of our shopping at Elsie's and Wade's, one thing that I will never forget about Errard's was going to gamble. As kids, we went there with our pennies to take a chance on a baseball pull tab card. The card had round pull-up tabs that cost one cent each and the prize was malted milk balls. Under the tabs were different baseball words such as single, double, triple, home run, error, out and so forth. The better the pull tab, the more malted milk balls you received.

And here you all thought legalized gambling was something new in Wisconsin.

From now on, when you push your cart down those nice wide supermarket aisles, think of how we had to carry our groceries from those wonderful old family stores of years long gone.

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