Friday, July 29, 2016

164 Langside Street - Hill Brothers' Grocery

ca. 2015 Google Street View

Place: Hill Bros Grocery
Address: 164 Langside Street (Map)
Year Built: ca. 1912
Architect: Unknown

May 21, 1920, Winnipeg Free Press

The earliest mention of a building at this location comes in the 1913 Henderson Directory as home to
Hill Bros. Grocery. At the time, this section of Sara Street was still known as Preston Street, so it advertised its location as “Langside at Preston”.

The small scale of the project in such a prominent year in Winnipeg's construction history meant that there was no mention of a permit being issued or of its construction in either the Tribune or the Free Press. Due to this, its is unclear who the architect was or whether the brothers had the store custom-built for them.

The Hill brothers were close, as not only did they work together, they lived together. From 1913 - 1915 it was in a rooming house at 150 Langside Street and by 1916 at the Preston Court Apartments across the street from the store at 161 Langside.

During the Hill brothers years there was no listing in the Henderson Directory for an apartment upstairs. In fact, there is rarely anyone listed as living upstairs for most of the history of the building.

After 1916, James disappears from the Henderson Directory. This could indicate that he moved on, retired from the business or died. (A check of newspapers and war rolls shows no record of him dying or being killed in the war, though with such a common name it is hard to dig very deep.)

In 1922, William Hill sold up and opened Hill’s Grocery at 750 Preston near Chestnut.

164 Langside, interior, September 24, 1928, Winnipeg Tribune

The store's next long-term owners came around 1925 with James Albert Fitch and his wife Emma, who renamed it Fitch's Grocery.

James first appears in the Henderson Directory of 1900 as a brakeman with the CPR. In 1907 he is issued a hotelman's licence and, along with his brother, they ran the Strathcona Hotel on Main Street. By the late 19-teens the Fitch brothers are each running a grocery store. James' was on Polson Avenue in the North End.

Fitch associated his store with the Red and White grocery chain, which at the time had about 40 stores in the city. Each store was independently owned but offered the benefits of mass advertising and bulk buying power.

James Fitch died at the General Hospital in 1938 at the age of 58.

ca. 1940 ad

Soon after, the store became a Shop Easy.

This chain was created in Winnipeg in 1937 to help independent shops battle the giant U.S. retail chains Safeway and Piggly Wiggly that arrived in 1929. Unlike the bigger chains, these were not corporate stores, but independent shops.

164 Langside became Shop Easy Store No. 5. By 1941, Shop Easy had 13 stores in its network but 164 Langside only remained part of it for another year.

Unfortunately, Henderson Directories do not list the individual store owners or managers by name, so it is not clear who the owner was.

Top: October 10, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: January 29, 1942, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1942, the store was taken over by Jack and Alma Schiller, who renamed the now independent store Langside Grocery, a name that would remain for decades to come.

The Shillers lived in one of the units upstairs, making them likely the first resident-owners of the business.

The Schillers were replaced around 1947 by Morris Shnier. From 1948 to 1952, the owner was Lee B. Sing. In 1953, Betty Sim of 640 Langside is listed as the manager.

Jan 25, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

From 1954 to 1962 the four Blye sisters, Ray, Rose, Elizabeth, and Pauline, were in charge. From the time they took over until about 1960, all of the sisters were single and lived together at 2-640 Preston were in.

Sadly, not a great deal of information can be found about the sisters. Even their respective obituaries, see above, give little away.

Soon after Ray died in 1961, the store was sold to Robert and Connie Cantaflo. They lived upstairs with their son and ran in until about 1965.

ca. 2007, Google Street View

The change in names and owners continued.

In the late 1970s, Egon Husk owned the store and lived upstairs. By the mid 1980's the store was known as Sang's Grocery. In the early 90's it was L and M Grocery and in the late 90's, until at least 1996, it was called Family Grocery.

The West Broadway neighbourhood began deteriorating in the 1970s into an area of gangs, drugs and violence. This can be seen in how often the store made the newspapers for robberies. The store was held up with a gun at least three times in 1984 and 1985 while it was Sang's.

In its final incarnation as a grocery store, Family Grocery, the violence got worse. In 1993 it was held up with a machete. In April 1996, four people armed with a knife, pipe and wooden stick, beat and stabbed the male clerk before stealing money and cigarettes.

It was soon after this attack that the store closed.

April 5, 1937, Winnipeg Free Press

It is difficult to piece together a list of who lived above the store. Ads do appear for an apartment for rent, more frequently after the 1960s, but rarely did the Henderson Directory list anyone living there, aside from the various shop owners.

Interior shots ca. 2012 from various real estate sites

In 1999, architect Don Courtinage and artist Pat Courtinage purchased the building and received a variance to convert it into a commercial space. It included an architect's office on the second floor and a studio on the main floor. (The zoning was officially changed in 2010.)

The building was sold in 2013 and in 2015 was a regular backdrop in the sketch comedy TV series Sunnyside.

In July 2016 Corticelli Pizza applied, and received, a variance to turn the building into a pizza restaurant with a patio for 28 people. (Read more about that here.)

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