From Reflections of Mexico, NY by Mrs. New, for the 125th Anniversary of the Village of Mexico in 1976.
Take a stroll with me down Main Street a generation ago. A good place to start would be Giovo’s (Now Mexico Liquor.) It was first known as the Candy Kitchen, and the proprietor was “Old Charlie” Giovo. He was a stocky, black eyed, and moustache, also pleasant, dignified and rather strict. He had old-fashioned standards of behavior, and we conformed. Charlie made his own candy and he also raised his own help: Deana, Jean, Harry, and Charlie.
When you went in you might find at the counter George Kellogg or Jim Feeney, or Mr. Ramsey for their regular afternoon “coke” break. An ice cream cone was a nickel, a soda a dime, and a sundae fifteen cents.
Next door to Giovo’s as Kassler’s Meat Market. It may come as a shock to the younger generation, but in those days one bought groceries at a grocery store, drugs at a drug store, and meat at a meat market. Jim Kessler was a short, stout, red-faced, and in memory, was always wearing a straw hat, a coat sweater, and a white apron. He was also the village president. We had a village board, and the board had a president instead of a mayor. If you wanted a five pound pot roast, Jim set the meat on a big chopping block, measured with his eye, and with a few swift strokes with his wicked looking cleaver, cut a roast that varied not more than an ounce or two. Then he wrapped it in a piece of butcher’s paper town off a huge roll at the end of the counter, and tied it with string.
Our next stop is Clavert’s Electrical Store. Cal was a tall quiet man who sold and repaired small appliances. He also ran the Railway Express Office. Anything you ordered by mail was delivered to the store and you picked it up there.
Before we go on the next store, mention must be made of “the bleachers”, the long row of steps between Calvert’s and the jewelry store, dear to the hearts of generations of Mexico boys. Every night after supper, except in the very worst weather, the boys gathered on the steps, talking, laughing, arguing the evening away. Girls never had a place on the steps. It was purely male territory.
Next was a jewelry store run by Mr. U Mrs. Elliott Thomas. If thre is any truth to the old saying that married people grow to look alike, the Thomas’ were living proof. They were both unusually attractive people with snow –white hair, the main difference being that Mrs. Thomas had lovely dimples. She was usually behind the counter, while Mr. Thomas sat at his bench with a glass screwed to his eye, repairing clocks and watches.
The corner building was always a barber shop, and nearly every barber in town was located there at one time or another. Back then Earl Moore and Roger Nash were in business there. If you cried, they gave you a chocolate!
Across the way, on the other corner of Jefferson Street, was dry goods store owned by Walter and Addie Preston, but early in the 1930’s it became Leepy’s Dry Goods Store. Ladies stopped here to buy baby clothes, lingerie, gift items, patterns, and material. When you climbed the stairs you could choose wall paper and other household items.
Next door was Taylor’s Drug Store, but in 1933, it became Shumway Pharmacy presided over by Ralph Shumway with the puckish face, and puckish sense of humor. It was fun just to go into the store. There was a soda fountain that served the best pineapple phosphates (whatever became of phosphates?) and a rental library where you could read to your hearts content for 3 cents a day. Bessie Shumway worked with Ralph, and in later years, all the rest of the family in succession, as they became old enough.
Beyond Shumway’s was Fred Bracy’s’ Meat Market. At that time there were five groceries and three meat markets in the center of town. Fred was a tall dark-haired man, with rugged features, and he was assisted in the store by his son, Bob, who was later to lose his live in Europe in World War II.
The next small building was once a bakery and now is Sam’s Restaurant run by Sam Detor and his wife, Nina. Oh, the delicious odor of spaghetti sauce always made one hungry.
Beyond this building the trees began. A long row of trees arched over Main Street in front of the pleasant, white home of Mr. & Mrs. Floyd Kenyon, with its curving porch and green lawn. Mable Kenyon “Took” teachers and many a Mexico teach called this place home.
The building recently vacated by Oswego County Social Services, now Cornell Cooperative Extension, was the beautiful home of the Taylor family. John C. Taylor owned the pharmacy in the Shumway location, but in later years was better known as the owner of the Mexico Motor Car Company.
The next house was occupied for many years by Mr. & Mrs. Fred Arthur and before that by the Cook family. The Arthurs ran the “5 and 10” and Mr. Arthur was also mayor for some years.
The little office next to what was the post office (more recently Cam’s Pizza) was the location of Dr. Herbert Whitney’s dentist office. Doc Whitney was one of a kind, something of a village character. He had an unequalled command of the English language, and rarely conversed. He orated. Almost as well-known as Doc was his dog “Dolly” who lay on the sidewalk under a tree and was greeted by every passerby. The whole town mourned with Doc the day Dolly was struck by a car in front of the office.
The post office was next. There were few lock boxes. There were compartments open at the back and you asked for your mail at the window. Glenn Smith was postmaster for many years, prior to that was postmistress Mrs. Emma Penn Shutts Taylor. Two other well-known employees at the time were Henry Nichols and Elouda Keifer Fetcha. Mail carriers were Ray Wilcox, Captain Boyd, Myrna Fellows, Perl Doil, and Ralph Walton.
Beyond the post office is the Kingsley building. Fifty years ago it was the Kingsley Department Store where you could buy everything from shoes to furniture. For a few years in the early 1930‘s this was the Backus Furniture store, owned by R. Austin Backs, who had his pedigree office upstairs. Then it became for many years Arthur Five and Ten. Unique items in this store were the lovely articles of blown glass made by Mr. Arthur.
Beck’s Hotel was the same then, run by “Old John” Catherine, Isabelle and Johnny. It was, and still is, a landmark known to all who traveled through Mexico.
As we cross the street we have to wait for LeClair’s ice wagon, driven by Henry LeClair, with sons Charles and Donald riding shotgun. For many years the LeClairs cut ice on Salmon Creek and stored it in sawdust in their ice house at the corner of Lincoln and Madison avenues. All summer the horse-drawn wagon drove around town serving local residents. The boys would hook on to a big chunk with tongs, heave it over their shoulder, and carry it in the back door to the icebox where it slowly melted as it cooled the food stored in the adjoining compartment. We were always cautioned never to eat the ice, but we always did.
Directly across from Beck’s was the Hotchkiss Restaurant, “where Mother Does the Cooking”. Operated first by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hotchkiss and then by Glenn and Elva Hotchkiss. It served many local residents, travelers, and salesmen.
The building next door, looking much as it does not, was the Mexico Motor Car Co. and Ford dealership. This was where Mexico bought its first Model T’s and later Model A’s. Dean Buck was the manager. Among the people who worked there were Willard Fetcha, Fred Coe, Don Dun, Floyd Kenyon, Roy Tilton, Howard Norton, Arthur Storr and in the office Elizabeth Branch Evale.
Crossing Washington Ave. we came to the home office of Dr. Earl Mowry. Dr. Mowry was a quiet serious appearing man, but when he sat down beside a sickbed, he always had a story to cheer the patient. Mexico was fortunate in having two family doctors, Dr. Mowry and Dr. Pulsifer, who inspired self-continence that patients felt better when they walked into the room. Both doctors gave most of their lives to serving the people of Mexico.
Just up the street was Joe’s Shoe Shop. He has been a fixture on Main Street for over fifty years. He came to Mexico with his pretty wife and three children, settled down and had three more, and surely must be the oldest businessman still on Main Street.
There was a tiny building close by which was often vacant, but was an antique shop at one time and used as a thrift shop by various churches.
Now we come to the three story Victorian home owned by Miss Fanny Thomas, with its lawn, flowers, and shrubs. Miss Thomas used to serve tea to her friends on summer afternoons, under the spreading umbrella tree, to some the epitome of elegance.
The next little building as always a barber shop, and like the one on the corner, was occupied at one time or another by almost every barber in town. Ear Moore, Art Moore, Bert Buck, Carl Brown, Bob Brown. Ever body went to the barber shop in those days – mem, women and children.
Next door was a little variety store operated by Miss Bess Runsey. She sold what was known in those days as notions. She was also a photographer, and many an attic still contains samples of her work.
Win Smith’s bargain store was next. It was a narrow store, over flowing with boots, rubbers, shoes, work clothes, heavy jackets and flannel shirts. Every family for miles around came on Saturday night to get outfitted.
It was difficult to pass by the next store, because of the smells reaching out and drawing you in. It was the most fragrant place in town, Greff’s Bakery. Ray Greff and Francis Mahar were in the back and Ella Greff, Kathleen Brown, and Mable Vault, the most cheerful trio in town, were behind the counter.
Sherman and Dailey’s Hardware Store was next, run by Reuben and Will Sherman and Ray Dailey. It was a dark, incredibly crowded place, with horse collars and lamp chimneys, along with the usual nails, tools, and hardware. It was said that you could buy anything there that you might ever want, if you would wait for them to find it.
Upstairs over the hardware store was Hollister Insurance. “Grandpa” Hollister was a familiar figure around town for many years, just as Hoyt is now.
On the corner of Main and S. Jefferson Streets, was the drug store, smaller than now (Crandall’s Corner Pharmacy) run by Ernest and Ruth Wells.
Across S. Jefferson Street was the Market Basket, run by Glenn Whitney and Keith Storr. It seems strange to remember that we stood at the counter, and the clerks ran around waiting on us, an item at a time. Eggs had to be counted in bags; cookies were scooped out of bins and weighted. Cottage Cheese was dipped into a cardboard "boat".
Ed Parker’s Plumbing and Heating store came next, and there were always pipes and fittings in the windows. All necessary items, but nothing to attract the casual passerby.
Its neighbor as another grocery store, run first by Ethan Burdick and later by Fred Ruth. Every Saturday night everyone went uptown, or downtown, or into town, depending on where you lived. They socialized, visited, bought the weeks groceries, and paid the week’s grocery bills.
Ramsey’s Department Store looked much as it does now, except for the presence of “S.J.” Spencer Ramsey was a quiet, pleasant man who might have been called “Mr. Mexico”. He was so active in the community, but in such an unobtrusive way that this many kind and generous deeds often went unnoticed. S.J.’s son, John, has been in the store most of his life, and Mil since she married John. Among the people who have served the public in Ramsey’s were Carl Taylor, Floyd Leepy, Ann Fultz, Neil Buck Hazel Gass, Amarelle Jacobs, and Wanda Preman, along with Jack and Nancy Ramsey.
Beyond Ramsey’s there was another grocery store, this one run by Harry Gibbs and Charles Hogaboom, then for many years by Sherm and Frances Fenner and later by Bill Irwin. It was successively Gibb’s and Hogaboom Red and White and a Victory Store.
Next was another grocery, the A & P, and those familiar faces on the street, Nelson and Ethel Hardie. Bill Preman went to work there as soon as he was old enough and stayed with A &P until its move across the street.
The next store was another plumbing, heating, hardware, you-name-it store and was owned by another familiar character in town, Carl Ballard, Carl was a solemn man with a nasal drawl, who knew everybody in town. He was the town clerk for a long time and if you went in to get a marriage license, you were apt to find it filled out and waiting for you. He knew everything that was going to happen, everything that was happening, and everything that had happened.
This was Main Street in Mexico Forty Years Ago…Or Was It Fifty???