Neighborhood Groceries

People often complain that our youth have nothing to do. When I was a kid, we always had Wolter’s Grocery Store to while away the time. The fine thing about old neighborhood grocery stores was their proximity to area children. Most neighborhoods in Little Falls, Minnesota, used to have a nearby grocery store that parents allowed their children to visit unsupervised. For my siblings and me, Wolter’s store was located a few blocks away, across our one major obstacle, Highway 27. It was located at 609 Northeast First Avenue.

The store operated between 1965 and 1978. I was born in 1967, so I was eleven or younger when my brothers, sister, and I biked to the store. Until now, I didn’t realize how much freedom we had to take off on our bikes and cross a major highway by ourselves.

My brother, John, helped me to fill in my memory gaps concerning Wolter’s Grocery. He said that we used to lean our bikes against the rail at the bottom of the stairs. No one would ever steal our bikes, even though they weren’t locked up. The small stairway was on the exterior of the building. It led directly up to the store. Like most neighborhood groceries, living quarters were attached to the store.

Upon entering the store, it seemed that the lighting was poor. Perhaps that’s because we had just come in from the bright sunlight. The candy counter and cash register were on the left as one entered. I also remember there being coolers in the center of the store. John reminded me that Wolter’s served as kind of a general store and one could buy things like flashlights, sewing kits, and other items besides groceries there. John even bought record albums (remember those?) at Wolter’s for our mother for her birthday one year.

Of course, we weren’t usually interested in the groceries and sundries. We were almost always on a mission to buy candy. Kids stood in front of the counter and contemplated the big decision of what to buy for what seemed like hours. It probably wasn’t that long, but it’s amazing that the person behind the till had patience to wait for us slack-jawed youth to pick out our purchases.

Pop Rocks were a huge item at that time. They snapped and popped in one’s mouth and came in flavors such as grape and cherry. (Spilling them on a carpet was not a good idea. They popped their way into the fibers and were difficult to remove.) Candy cigarettes were another favorite. We felt so grown up pretending to “smoke” our wintergreen-flavored cigarettes. Of course, now we frown upon anything that encourages children to pick up the smoking habit.

John told me that the best deal on candy to be had for children at Wolter’s was the grab bags. How could I have forgotten? Grab bags came in prices of twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and one dollar. The bags were plain brown paper, like a lunch sack, and were sealed shut. John said that he usually bought the fifty-cent bag which was a “bonanza” of candy, worth about five-to-six dollars today. The fun and the risk of the grab bag was not knowing what one would get, so even the bags were pondered for some time before one was chosen. The thrill, the agony. At least I had siblings to share with if I got something I didn’t want.

Now that neighborhood groceries like Wolter’s have drifted into oblivion, my children have convenience stores and gas stations at which to peruse the selection of candy. Thus far, these stores are too far away from our neighborhood for them to visit alone, but when we are there, they certainly take as long as we did to decide what to buy.

by Mary Warner
Copyright 2003, Morrison County Historical Society

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