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November 4, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: A trip to the corner grocery

TERRE HAUTE — Photographs hold many clues that help us understand how people used to live. While filing photos in the Vigo County Historical Society’s photo archives, I came across a photograph that piqued my interest. This particular photo had a group of individuals posing in front of a store called “Vendel’s.” After doing research in the City Directories, Vendel’s turned out to be a grocery at South 8th and College streets.

Corner groceries were establishments focused on providing necessities to their immediate neighborhood. Some stores specialized in baked goods, others butchered meats, while many were general stores. Around the turn of the 20th century most corner stores carried produce, a selection of bulk items such as flour, and sweets (especially for the neighborhood children). As products became more accessible, stores carried additional items, such as canned goods and fresh meats. The corner grocery was a mainstay of most neighborhoods. At one time, Terre Haute had about 400 neighborhood grocers, including Vendel’s, Oakley’s, and Paitson Brothers. However, due to the ever-increasing convenience of automobiles and food products, the corner store became obsolete. It is interesting, though — many of the buildings where the stores were located are still around.

If one pays attention around town, most corner buildings that do not look like homes were often occupied by a corner grocery. For example, Vendel’s location is still visible across from Oakley Park on South 8th. It appears to have been a house with a gabled roof; however, the storefront is evident from the entrance door and awning. In other neighborhoods, the only commercial building will often be on the corner of a block of homes. More than likely it was a corner grocery. The next time you are traveling through town, take notice of the neighborhood buildings. Then visit the Vigo County Historical Society to research whether you have found a corner grocery.

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