Ancestors, Legends & Time

Remembering the favorite – Broadway Market

Jeanne Newby

When talking with most people who grew up in Webb City, if you ask what grocery store they remember the most, you will often hear about Broadway Market.

It was a unique grocery store sitting on the southeast corner of Broadway and Roane streets. It started out as a fruit market. Lee Webb bought the fruit stand in 1948. He brought his twin sons, Jack and Gene, into the business. They had both served in the war and had suffered severe injuries. Lee did not stop there. He contacted his daughter and son-in-law, Harvey and Jessie (Webb) Cooper, in Kansas City, and offered them to join the new family business. Harvey had a good job with General Motors making small planes, but he didn’t want to raise his sons in the big city, so they sold their home and moved sight unseen to Webb City. They were a bit disheartened to see the “Shed” that Lee Webb had purchased. They bought a home on First Street between Pennsylvania and Ball Streets just a block and a half from the “Shed.”

Lee had plans for his new business and with family behind him there was no limit to the growth of Broadway Market. Adding a butcher shop to the store was a big success. Making it even better was the addition of Lee Webb’s special chili recipe. On the days the chili was made, everyone who stepped into the store and smelled the chili bought a brick, and most of the city had chili for supper that evening. The Kneeland family once told me that when they came home from California for a visit they’d buy about 10 pounds of brick chili, freeze it and wrap it in several layers of newspaper for the trip back to California. They said they would have to unwrap it at the state borders of Arizona and California to show the border patrol what they had.

Walt James said he was recruited in 1948 to learn the butcher business. He recalls that the business was known as the Fruit Stand by most customers. I think the “Shed” was just a family nickname. James recalls that the concrete block building was built around the old frame (shed) building while business continued. They never closed during construction.

Not to be just a butcher, James was trained to stock shelves and sack groceries. Jessie taught him to cashier, and he drove the delivery truck. That was another service supplied by the Broadway Market, home delivery. Jack Webb’s daughter, Debbie Webb Lounis, remembers market employees would take an order on the phone, gather the groceries and deliver them in an old panel truck right to the door. Her favorite “Jessie’s boy” as each young man was referred to, was Willie “Squiggs” Waggoner. She said he would pick her up on his shoulders (at age 6) and carry her around the store. She said he had a wonderful sense of humor and everyone loved his jokes. Sadly, Willie died at the age of 17 in a car accident.

Walt James said he would drive the delivery truck to Smith’s Ice & Fuel in the West End and purchase three 300-lb. blocks of ice to cool down the watermelon tanks. The tanks would hold about 30 or 40 watermelons, which would sit in the ice overnight to be ice cold for selling the next day.

James recalls that since the market sat on famous Route 66 many out-of-town folks would drive by and see the fresh fruit on display outside during the summer months. He said, “One hot summer evening, two beautiful women in a convertible stopped to buy a watermelon. The car had a California license plate, and the women were wearing shorts and halter tops. I just knew they were movie stars so I hurriedly offerred my service. They purchased a 30-pound cold watermelon (90 cents), handed me $1.50 and told me to keep the change and asked me to cut the melon in halves. They sat on the curb, ate only the heart of each melon half, returned to their car and headed east. I thought they must me extremely rich to spend that much money and eat only a small portion of the melon!”

Dave Troop remembers each evening stocking the bottled pop machine and the big watermelon tank, icing them down for the night. He also recalls when they finally had to start putting up chicken wire on the market’s “front porch” to secure the produce at night from being carried away.

Another Walt James memory was of an elderly lady who lived west of the market but would walk three blocks farther east of the market to shop at Safeway. One evening, she stopped in Broadway Market to complain to Mr. Webb that he was asking 15 cents for a can of Campbell’s tomato soup while Safeway’s price was only 13 cents. Mr. Webb answered her complaint with, “Why don’t you buy your soup at Safeway?” The lady snapped back that Safeway was “out of it.” To which Mr. Webb replied, “Well, when we are out of it, we’ll also sell it for 13 cents!” Mrs. Webb was at the check-out counter and had to stifle her laughter, James said. He wasn’t sure the elderly lady ever “got it.”

Marty Blankenship remembered that the Webb men would plug a perfect watermelon for a customer and if they weren’t pleased, they would take their sharp knife and cut a triangle from another until they found the perfect watermelon for the right person. The watermelon would be so cold, it would hurt your front teeth when you took that first bite… but it was so good on a hot summer night.

Marty recalled that one night when she and her mother were walking home from the Civic Theater, they noticed a still-cold watermelon as they passed Broadway Market. Marty said, “When we arrived home, my mother said, Waggie, there is a perfectly good watermelon behind the Broadway Market and I want you to go up there and bring it home. Anyone who knew my saint of a dad knew he was out in the car with it backing out of the driveway before she ever got to the words ‘bring it home.’ Anything that was her heart’s desire was his mission in life. And I never have eaten such a delicious ‘lifted’ watermelon. My family probably deprived some local chickens or pigs from a luscious feast. We just recycled that watermelon before the farmers got it.” 

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber office and other local retailers, such as Maggie Jane’s Gifts, at 8 S. Main St.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.