The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

September 8, 2013

Grocer companies once thrived here

BY CAROL ROEHM
Commercial-News

DANVILLE —

While browsing antique shows and shops, I’m always on the lookout for Danville grocery items. As far back as the turn of the last century, Danville was a major grocery distribution hub. Grocer companies such as Webster, Paxton and Peyton-Palmer called Danville home.

Each grocer company packaged goods under their own brand names, such as Webster’s Marvel and Dinette, Paxton’s Grab-It-Here and Peyton-Palmer’s Early Dinner. I have a large collection of spice tins and coffee cans — and even an oatmeal box and a vinegar bottle — representing all of those Danville brands.

So imagine my surprise when I ran across a Webster Grocer Co. “want book” at the Hobnob Market in June at Kennekuk County Preserve.

Despite the title on the cover, the “want book” contains yellowed blank pages inside. I can just imagine the woman of the household using it to jot down her grocery shopping list.

Inside the front cover is a table of standard weights and measures, which includes conversion charts for avoirdupois weight, dry measure, liquid measure, time measure, circular measure, long measure, cloth measure, mariner’s measure, square measure, surveyor’s measure, cubic measure and metric equivalents — all very intriguing, but I’m unsure how that might aid a homemaker in devising her grocery shopping list.

A percentage table fills the inside and the outside of the back cover of the book. The instructions that accompany the percentage table sound as if it is meant to assist an independent grocer in pricing his merchandise so that a percentage of profit can be factored into the selling price to offset the grocer’s actual cost of the goods.

An empty lot at the southwest corner of North and Washington streets is all that remains of the Webster Grocer Co. distribution warehouse that stood at 301 E. North St., as far back as 1915. According to the 1904 Danville city directory, Webster’s headquarters was located at 125 N. Vermilion St., where DC Fitness is now.

The former Peyton-Palmer distribution warehouse is still in use as the Danville School District 118’s warehouse.

The Paxton distribution warehouse was located at Factory and Stroup streets, and several years ago I wrote about a few young guys who were building high-performance cars in the old warehouse. I’m not sure about the current status of the building.

After reading about the Colonial Parkway Restaurant recollections in the last few columns, Phyllis Rogers, who taught at Northeast and East Park elementary schools for 30 years, contacted me. She said she believes her third cousin, Leo Smith — not the same Leo Smith who owned the Colonial Parkway in the early to mid-1930s until about 1942 — owned a grocery store in Danville years ago.

It turns out there were two Leo Smiths in Danville starting around the same time in the 1930s, according to the Danville city directories. Leo C. Smith is the one of Colonial Parkway fame. After leaving the restaurant business, he became a farmer for a few years before becoming manager of Danville Gas and Oil in the 1950s and 1960s.

Rogers’ relative, Leo W. Smith, worked for Timm’s Groceries at 629 N. Collett St. for upwards of 40 years until retiring in 1970 or 1971.

“He owned it privately. It was an independent grocery store,” Rogers said.

“I remember him back in the 1950s and 1960s delivering our groceries to an apartment on Walnut Street.”

Does anyone remember Timm’s Groceries or any other neighborhood grocery stores? How about the Grab-It-Here stores or any of the Danville brands, such as Marvel or Dinette?

If you do, I would love to hear from you.

Carol Roehm is the education reporter. Contact her at 477-5174 or by e-mail at croehm@dancomnews.com.