Bygone Treasures: Down at the Corner Store

By Michael Rice

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I’m amazed at the store sizes in Victoria’s new shopping centre, remembering, at 14, watching the old one being built that’s now torn down. The employees of one chain outlet now need ropes and grappling hooks to reach some of their stock, and would have to rent Ireland to hold a staff meeting.

This, of course, brings me to the subject of the corner store. Near our home in Saanich, there were three small grocers, two of which were side by side - a sort of Norman Rockwell image of a strip mall. Each had food out front, a space out back where the owner lived, and sundry neighbourhood small animals that seemed to roam at will, knocking things over and taking naps on top of the fresh bread display.

Candy was a big attraction. Most of the stuff came two or three for a penny, and if I were to find a nickel on the road, I became an instant math whiz, calculating how many I could cram in a bag giving careful thought to smaller and sweeter versus larger and longer lasting.

The bins they came in were open to the air, sticky fingers and occasional bugs, so it was possible to take a quick nibble on something (purely for the sake of scientific experiment, you’ll understand) and if it failed to meet the taste test, back it went into the bin.

The fun’s gone, as any group of three candies now comes hermetically sealed in a bubble pack that costs $3.98 to buy in the first place and power tools to crack the packaging.

Outside the store was the pop machine where you dragged a bottle through a bath of icy water and up through a pair of mechanical jaws that you just knew were preset to shorten the fingers of anyone who tried to fool the machine by dropping electrical box slugs in the coin slot.

The best part was that after you drank the pop, you could take it inside and get two cents back for another run at the candy bins! Whatever happened to 2-Way, Stubby, Kik Cola and Mandalay Grape Punch? The empty bottles from these fetch $5 each and just the bottle caps can bring a dollar or two at collectibles shows.

If you have an old Coke vending machine hiding in your basement, blow the dust off, as many models sell for thousands.

The food shelves were filled with peanut butter jars, cereal boxes and rows of those Empress Golden Syrup tins that you dunked bread in when no one was looking. I recently bought a peanut butter jar full of coins where the jar was worth more than the coins.

Some years ago, there was a magazine called Flake for collectors of cereal boxes. Possibly the title came from what folks called the publisher when he told them he collected cereal boxes. Looking at some recent eBay results, I note that a Kellogg’s Sugar Pops box with cowboy actor Andy Devine on the front sold for $165, while a Quaker Quangaroos box brought more than $200. For these prices, the buyers got empty boxes, as some kid with sticky fingers ate the cereal a long time ago.

If you shopped at a Red and White or a United Purity Store, you’ll recall the signs that advertised the week’s specials and what they gave away to encourage you to return. While large chain stores now have little plastic cards that rack up points, way back there were savings stamps awarded based on how much you spent. One dutifully licked the awful tasting gum on the back and plastered them in savings books. Once a couple of books were filled, you could exchange them for a marvellous packet of hairnets!

The grocery stores of our childhood with their wooden plank floors and the bell that tinkled over the door won’t come around again, but there are things you can still enjoy. I’m positive that the four food groups are candy, pop, bread and syrup.

Comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome, and can be sent to Michael Rice at


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Showing 1 to 1 of 1 comments.

I enjoyed your article Mike. WE all had our neighborhood " corner stores " i lived on the corner of hillside ave. and graham st. and within a 3 block radius we had no less than 6 of these type stores , two remain but have been totally rebuilt. there were a couple hundred such corner stores within greater Victoria. i always hope that someone would put together a book featuring each of these bygone stores showing a photo and as much of the history that can be remembered . Another interesting feature would be gas stations . Corner Stores and Gas Stations of greater Victoria , that is a coffee table book i would buy.

Posted by Bob Dalziel | October 14, 2010 Report Violation

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