Baker’s Store

The day of the corner store as an independently operated business seems to be coming to its end. Once upon a time Grand Falls and more so Windsor were home to many such establishments. Little family owned shops, where you could by candy, cigarettes, soft drinks and other odds and ends. Sometimes there were take outs attached. Grand Falls had a few, Ryans, Effies, Bensons, Mercers (Mel’s), and Brides but Windsor must have had dozens over the years. This is the story of one of them.

Nan Baker
Florence Baker 1917-2009, owned and operated Baker’s Snack Bar on 8th Avenue. I was told that her parents at one time operated a small store supplied by the Railway Employees Welfare Association (REWA) in Heart’s Delight in the 1920’s or 30’s. Nan and three of her siblings ended up in Central Newfoundland.

 

A while back, somebody went on the Windsor History Facebook group and started generating discussion by asking if people remembered ___________store. In one of the pictures was my Grandmother Mrs. Florence Baker who owned and operated a store and takeout on the Corner of 8th and 9th Avenue, just off of Main Street in the 1960’s and early 70’s. It was before my time, but I have heard a lot about it.

Baker's Store 2
Former Baker’s Store on 8th Avenue. The store has gone through a few owners, but it was originally started by the Baker’s in the early 1960’s.

Gower and Florrie Baker were married in August of 1951 in the Anglican Church in Grand Falls. Neither of them were from, or lived in Grand Falls. Florrie was from Heart’s Delight and had lived in Clarenville since 1934. Gower was from Dark Hole (Hillview), Trinity Bay. Nan was a Widow with one little boy and Pop was a widower with a son almost the same age. Pop was a carpenter and had previously  worked on the Argentia base and at the Clarenville Shipyard. Starting around 1947 he used to come in to Grand Falls and Windsor  to work building houses and buildings for the AND Company. He worked on some of the houses on Memorial Avenue and he worked on the stadium. He also worked for Jack Basha when he built the Vogue Theatre in the late 40’s. Pop had cousins living in Windsor, the Churchills, some of whom had been there for a number of years before. From what I can gather Pop also worked in the mill for a total of a year and a half between 47 and 51.

Reid's Mill Hearts Delight.jpg
Nan Baker was born and grew up in Heart’s Delight, on Sooley’s Hill. Her father worked on the Newfoundland Railway. She grew up in a time before compulsory education and only spent a few years in school. I remember her telling me how she used to take slabs from this mill when it was her turn to bring wood for the potbellied stove at St. Matthew’s Church of England School. (Maritime History Archive.)

For the first little while after they were married, Gower and Florrie lived in Clarenville. They moved to Windsor in June of 1954. Harvey Dawe had recently taken over the town workshop from the A.N.D Co and Pop went to work for them (He had worked in the carpentry shop of the AND Co under Harvey Dawe before). They moved into a house on the corner of 8th and 9th Avenue.

Back then, there were no skidoos for hauling wood and most people still burned wood so Pop brought his horse Queen in from Hillview. To house the horse he built a barn in front of the house. Pop used to keep the horse on the Botwood Highway in the summer time when she wasn’t needed to haul wood. One year she disappeared, Pop figured she was stolen I believe, I have vague memories about her maybe being taken to Nova Scotia and another connection with a Gypsy Carnival that was in Windsor around the same time. This was in the late 50’s or early 60’s.

Baker's Store
This was the original part of Baker’s Store, it was later expanded. It was originally built as a barn in the mid 1950’s. Churchill’s Supermarket, on the corner on Main Street was owned by Charlie Churchill. Charlie and Gower Baker were first cousins.

With the barn vacated Gower and Florrie’s two teenage sons started to hang out with their friends in the old horse shed. Pop being a carpenter built some tables and I think a booth. From what I can gather things started to snowball. They started to sell a few chips and bars to the teenagers hanging around, and then a jukebox was brought in, then a Pepsi machine. By 1961 they started to cook some French fries and then the barn became a fully-fledged store and takeout. Pop was still working doing carpentry work so Nan ran the store. When pop came off work he went to work making hamburgers.

img_1457
Gower Baker 1920-1991. My Grandparents sold the store in 1973 and moved back to Clarenville/Shoal Harbour. Within a year they moved back to Windsor. Pop went to work as maintenance man at the newly opened Carmelite Seniors Home where we worked until he retired in 1985.

The menu at Bakers Store included: Hamburgers, Hotdogs, french fries, soup, chicken and milkshakes. Most of the takeout business took place in the evening hours. I remember Nan talking about how she used to do a lot of business with the “bingo crowd” on their way back home.

img_1454
Pop Baker on the left putting up a sign at the store around 1969 or 70.

I was stuck on what I could remember about my grandparent’s store, so I asked mom to write up some of her memories for me.

Verlie Marsh (Baker):

“As you know when I was a little girl we owned a horse named Queen. That was not unusual in Windsor because Windsor was really a reflection of the  the various bays of Newfoundland from which people had come. My father had grown up with horses so when they moved to Windsor he got a horse. It was necessary for hauling fire work. We were allowed to winter our horse in town but had to pasture her out during the summer months. Thus we had a stable for the horse right on our property. One summer we lost the horse after a summer’s pasturing which was on the Botwood Highway(now Grenfell Heights).My father always said that Queen was stolen by the gypsies from Nova Scotia.

We never got another horse and we had an empty barn. By this time my brothers were teenagers. My dad told the boys that if they cleaned out the stable they could use it to hang out with their friends. That is just what they did. They brought down their record player and invited their friends and would have Friday night dances there. A little while later someone suggested to Dad that he have soft drinks, potato chips and chocolate bars that they could buy. Dad took their advice and that is how the store came to be.

The local teenagers were so happy to have a place to go I believe that was the reason they continue to patronize the store for so long.

My father was a carpenter by trade so converting an old stable to a little store was just a nice little project for him.  He keep the teenagers interested in the store he installed a juke box and a pinball machine. In time when storeowners were trying to keep teenagers away from their properties, Mom and Dad were welcoming them with open arms. They even held a store naming contest and someone ( I wish I knew who now) came up with the name East End Pop Shop. Later the store was named Baker’s Snack Bar.

The store was a huge part of my childhood. We opened it the year I was in grade three. I learned how to use a cash register to make change, interact with all ages and generally how to deal with the public. Invaluable lessons at very early age.

Our whole family life revolved around the store. All of social interactions happened there. Family visits happened there. We rarely used our house for anything but sleep. We ate most of our meals there.

Mom and Dad would use the little profits made to reinvest in the business adding more and more stock going from confectionary to grocery and eventually buying second hand deep fryer and grill so we could serve take out hamburgers and French fries.

Mom was the one in charge of purchasing stock and the everyday running of the store. Dad continued to hold down a full time carpentry job and would operate the kitchen in the store in the evenings cooking the burgers and the fries. Dad took care of the bookkeeping and the payroll. By this time Mom needed help running the store so they hired local people (mostly people from our neighborhood). We also had a local young fellow who was around my age who would peel potatoes every day after he came home from school. I would help peel potatoes sometimes but I didn’t like and he was a master potato peeler who relished the thought that he was way better at it than I was. I wish I knew how much he got paid to peel a sack of spuds. I am sure he remembers.

The store was not only the heart of my family existence but  it was the heart of our neighborhood. We knew everybody and everybody knew us. The store was a providing a very valuable service. There was not a lot of money people did not go out weekly to buy their big grocery order. They purchased items daily as they needed them. The store had the essentials like bread, tinned milk, tea, a little frozen meat, tinned goods and cigarettes. It was a the time that people were just starting to buy  “Baker’s ” bread rather than making their own. We had several families who would get their groceries and I would have to “write it down”. I didn’t realize until much later that my parents were providing them credit at a time when they had no other option to feed their family. Nothing was ever said there was no big deal about it. Very little was ever said. I am probably certain that people owned them money that was never repaid. It was the way it was.”

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