Early Winsted grocery stores

Gilbert A. Hart Grocery & Crockery, located in a building that later became Moore & Alvord Realty on 690 Main St., was typical of many of Winsted’s early grocery stores. The business was named after its proprietor, who was active in civic affairs, it carried basic and specialty food items, fresh produce was displayed in wooden bushel baskets or crates, white-aproned clerks served customers, deliveries were made in horse-drawn wagons, and it was a “cash grocery,” i.e. no credit was extended to customers. 

L.L. Camp’s store was at the corner of North Main and Beach. Camp was a practical and experienced merchant, with a well-stocked store. He specialized in coffees, teas, spices, and dairy products, including fresh laid eggs, and carried a full line of crockery, glassware, and footwear. Camp served as a Winsted burgess and was held in high esteem by the community. In 1911, the McPherson Brothers purchased the business and ran it for 40 years.

A photograph taken by King Sheldon in 1894 shows grocer Jesse Spugnaro, one of Winsted’s first Italian residents, standing proudly in front of his Main Street store. Spugnaro sold foreign and domestic produce and more, but his hot roasted peanuts, prepared in an Acme Peanut Roaster and priced at 5-cents a bag, are what reportedly attracted customers. 

J.K. Camp, one of Winsted’s most prominent grocers, ran a clean, up-to-date Main Street store with reliable items, both plain and fancy, and had moderate prices. Camp was a member in the CT Central Poultry Association and Winsted Gun Club. 

H.E. Dutton, a Winsted native, dealt in meat, canned goods, produce, and game in season. His store was the former site of the West Winsted Market, on Main Street. Dutton employed a good number of clerks and claimed his three delivery wagons were in constant service. 

Grocery stores operated by D.L. Dickerman, George Mubarek, the Francis Brothers, and J.A. Radocchio were all located along the Mad River on Main near Munro Street. Dickerman’s was opened around 1935 by Donald L. Dickerman, who was also a volunteer fireman for Engine One. The station was near Dickerman’s store and he was occasionally spotted rushing to the firehouse wearing his store apron. Dickerman’s offered “chain store prices” and specialized in Royal Scarlet brand groceries, deli items, and Hood ice cream in all flavors. The corner location of the store was an especially popular spot for three other grocers over the course of 25 years.  

George K. Mubarek sold groceries, fresh produce, ice cream, cigars, cigarettes and confections, and also dabbled in real estate, including purchasing neighboring properties in the Dudley block, which afforded him a very large frontage on Main Street. 

W.M. Johnson’s Store, established in 1890, sold staples and fancy goods. Johnson, an experienced Litchfield grocer, relocated to Winsted and lived here over 30 years. His store was large, occupying two floors and measuring 25 by 60 feet. He operated a bakery on Rock Street that made 48 loaves of bread at a time. The 10-cent loaves were so popular that the demand was hard to meet.

H.S. Comstock came to Winsted in 1904 and established a store on Main that was “large, well-lighted, and splendidly adapted for its purpose.” Comstock was a member of the IGA, an organization that was one of the largest purchasers of food products at the time in the United States. IGA was a buying organization composed of thousands of independent grocers with immense warehouses across the country. Comstock, one of Winsted’s most civic-minded citizens, arranged deliveries via telephone.

A.B. Fancher sold groceries and choice meats. Fancher, who died in the 1930s, and his son owned and operated two markets in town. Their specialties included fresh-ground peanut butter, hand-stuffed sausage, and “green cut bone” which was fed to poultry to increase egg-laying.

How did so many grocery stores survive in Winsted throughout the years? Edward M. Phelps’ store offers a clue. It was described as being “neat beyond criticism and having quality goods at uniformly low prices and cordial and particular service.” Phelps established his business in 1900 with his brother-in-law, Howard B. Deming, under the name of Deming & Phelps. Phelps’ clerk, Edwin A. Simonds, was associated with him for 35 years, six months short of the entire time Mr. Phelps was in business. 

Lastly, Highland Market, located in the west end, was formerly occupied by Fulton Market.  Like so many grocery stores along the Mad River side of Main Street, Highland Market was a victim of the 1955 flood.  

The grocery business was apparently demanding but rewarding. Columnist Joseph A. O’Brien, who grew up on Munro Street, reminisced about being employed at the First National Store, which was located at 372 Main St. from 1939 to 1956, prior to Mencuccini’s and Super Saver occupying the space. According to O’Brien, an old-time meat-cutter taught him the tricks of the trade, including how to make Italian and English sausage, but Joe decided “all that work was secondary to waiting on customers.” 

As we say goodbye to Winsted Super Saver, we thank John Dwan and his staff for providing Winsted with a grocery store that was special in so many ways for so many years. 

Verna Gilson is the genealogy and local history research assistant at the Beardsley and Memorial Library, Winsted.