Let’s share some more memories of the wonderful Broadway Market. Last week we mentioned the delivery truck and the watermelon tank, but there’s more to tell.
The delivery truck that “Jessie’s boys” drove around town to serve the customers was driven by many. Last week, we shared memories of Walt James and Dave Throop. Well, this week, we have the younger brother of Walt, Bob James, who says he was often called “Little Jimmy” because Walt’s nickname was “Jimmy.” Walt, who worked there from 1948 to 1952, was Jessie’s Main Boy.
It seems that Jessie Cooper’s boys continued to keep in touch with her up until she passed way. What a great tribute to a lady who was a mentor and friend to her young employees.
Bob James, who worked there from 1954 to 1957, recalled a memory that seems priceless. Did you know the Coopers had a watermelon patch? The watermelon garden was located at about Fifth and Walker streets, just off the highway. Bob learned the responsibilities of being in charge of the garden from Jessie’s brothers, the Webbs, as well as her and her husband, Hervey. Bob said those lessons were beneficial to him throughout his career.
Bob remembered backing the red paneled truck, with a stick shift on the floor, out into traffic onto Highway 66 (Broadway), when there weren’t Greyhound busses or trucks passing by. He said it took him longer to back the truck out than it did to make the deliveries.
His memories of the watermelon tank included picking out a big ripe Texas Black Diamond watermelon, plugging it and weighing it on the old industrial scale outside.
Walt James remembered the concern when “gypsies” came to town. A truckload of them would occasionally stop by the store. That is when a call was made for “all hands on deck” because these itinerant crop workers were known to be notorious shoplifters. While Walt was behind the meat counter, one of the men ordered two pounds of salt pork, which at 10 cents per pound was the cheapest item in the meat counter. “As I was slicing the salty, mostly fat, bacon-like meat, the man reached over the meat slicer, snatched a piece of the salt pork and put it in his mouth, before I had a chance to weigh it. I pointed my finger at him and said, ‘I’m going to charge you for that!’ And I added two cents to his bill.’”
Dave Throop recalled a special visitor to Broadway Market. He said it was the early ’50s when actor Smiley Burnett was brought to town by the Chamber of Commerce. Smiley was well known as Gene Autry’s sidekick, Frog Millhouse. “I was in awe that a Hollywood movie and television star would be at the Broadway Market,” said Throop. “I didn’t have anything for him to sign. However, Lee Webb came around from the meat counter with a torn corner from the roll of butcher paper and his big black butcher’s pencil. I got my prize – an autograph signed FROG. Dave was just a small customer at the time, but Lee took care of him.
Dave went to work for Broadway Market in 1961. The store had extended to the alley on the east side by then. Dave said, Gary Dawson and Harvey worked the meat department, while he and Jessie worked the checkout area. Richard Spencer started working with the crew. The entire store would pitch in on the nights that the huge weekly stock order came in from the Associated Grocers warehouse in Springfield.
Dave also recalled working with Gene Webb or “Gene-Gene,” as the boys called him. He said Gene was always such a cut-up and a clown. Gene was in charge of the produce. Earl was in charge of ordering, warehousing and promoting grocery items. There was always a butcher to support the meat department. Some of the names recalled by Dave include, Ralph “Butch” Platter, Fred Walker, Leroy Chandler and Bob Jones.
Dave said grocery delivery was very popular, especially on Saturdays and had to be discontinued as the store grew.
Broadway Market had the watermelons in the summer, Christmas trees in the winter – plus the fireworks stand on the east end of the store. Throop said he was fortunate enough to operate the fireworks stand for a couple of seasons. He remembered one year they got in a new item. It was a huge, thick sparkler that was a monster compared to the regular sparklers.
A family asked young Dave how long he thought the new sparklers would burn. Dave took a calculated guess of about 15 to 20 minutes. Well, it seems that “the volume of gunpowder does not mean that it will burn brighter, or boom louder, but it is still gunpowder, and it burned for just a few minutes,” Dave said. “To this day, when I greet this family in town, they always remind me of the ‘20-minute’ sparkler I sold them.”
What wonderful small-town memories of an awesome little grocery store that left its mark on many young people.