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Backstory: When 70+ grocery stores dotted Casper’s neighborhoods

Two unidentified men stand inside the Jonen Grocery located at 218 W. 9th Street in a 1937 photo. Casper at one time had more than 70 small neighborhood grocery stores. (Carrigan Collection, Wyoming State Archives)

CASPER, Wyo. – Casper was booming in the 1920s thanks to the oil industry, which was in huge demand to fuel America’s new industrial economy.

There was another boom as a result of that: Grocery stores.

A nearly full-page ad in the Casper Tribune published on Aug. 3, 1923, for Butter-Nut Coffee lists 75 grocery participating grocery stores.

“75 Casper and suburban dealers who handle Butter-Nut Coffee,” the ad said, directly addressing “Mrs. Housewife.”

“This is the largest list of groceries ever published in Casper selling any one item pertaining to the grocery trade,” it continued. The retailers were located overwhelmingly in Casper, but it also included a couple in Mills, and one each in Lavoye, Evansville, Salt Creek, Tea Pot Dome and South Camp.

The impressive list of stores reads like a map of Casper’s growing neighborhoods.

There was Corner Grocery on 1339 E. Second, Small’s Grocery at 446 S. Oak, Fitchie’s Grocery at 1200 S. Cherry, Noyes’ Grocery & Market at 903 S. Spruce, Hartman’s Grocery at 956 S. Chestnut, Cottage Grocery at 1127 S. Jackson…and Grant Street Grocery on 815 S Grant.

In the 1920s, roads were dodgy, families often had one or no vehicles, and women typically stayed home raising children and keeping the household while men went off to jobs. Kitchens were very small and refrigeration still a luxury. In this environment, it’s easy to imagine why the neighborhood store within walking or cycling distance was absolutely essential.

As cities grew, so did the grocery stores. According to groceteria.com, chains such as Kroger and Safeway were expanding in larger cities. Using economies of scale and housed in larger buildings, the stores were able to offer a larger variety of products that smaller independent simply couldn’t.

Natrona County Pioneer Association parade float passing by Safeway (now First United Methodist King’s Corner) on 112 S. Beech Street in Casper, 1949. (Robert and Marie Robertson Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

Casper’s first Safeway opened in the late-1920s at 144 S. Durbin, and eventually moved to 428 S. Durbin and 112 S. Beech. The Beech building still survives and was most recently King’s Corner.

The Safeway at 112 S. Beech is seen in all its sparkling modern glory in 1945. (Carrigan Collection, Wyoming State Archives)

Other stores grew dramatically, such as the Casper Commissary at 442 E. Yellowstone, which by the 1930s had expanded into non-grocery items as well. After WWII, Commissary Corporation built two big, modern supermarkets that flanked Casper’s east and west sides, a sign of Casper residents’ growing mobility and the city’s expansion.

The produce displays are seen in a 1937 photo of the Casper Commissary on Yellowstone. (Carrigan Collection, Wyoming State Archives)
The new Commissary Super Market is seen shortly after opening in 1950, around when many small neighborhood grocery stores were closing as lifestyles and demands changed. It eventually became the CY Albertsons. The first Commissary stood on W. Yellowstone. (Peter and Marie Peterson Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
The east side Commissary Supermarket is show shortly after opening in the late 1950s. It was part of the new Hilltop Shopping Center and eventually became an Albertsons. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

The small neighborhood markets dwindled as Casper grew, but some continued for decades. Blue Bird Grocery on 6th and Center opened in the early-1920s through 1978, operating 18-hours a day catering to refinery shift workers. The building is now the Cheese Barrel restaurant.

Since the early 1920s to 1978, the Blue Bird Grocery operated day and night to serve Casper’s shift workers. It is now the Cheese Barrel on S. Center. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

There are other quiet remnants of Casper’s neighborhood grocery boom still remaining. A small, blue building on 650 S. Lincoln looks dramatically different than its neighboring houses. It was originally the Lincoln Street Grocery, and was years ago converted into a residential dwelling.

A small building on the 600 block of S. Lincoln St. was originally the Lincoln Street Grocery. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

A white two-story building mostly surrounded by empty lots at 1111 S. Poplar is another neighborhood grocery survivor. It would’ve been walking distance between the bustling Standard Oil refinery and new neighborhoods when it was built more than a century ago.

A wood building at 1111 S. Poplar was originally the Poplar Grocery & Market. (Google Maps)

At 218 W Ninth St. the Jonen Grocery was situated a short distance between the then-new Natrona County High School and Park Elementary School. The location is currently a chiropractor’s office.

A chiropractor’s office occupies the location of the Jonen Grocery on West Ninth Street. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Grant Street Grocery is the last surviving neighborhood grocery store in Casper, which earned it a nod from the Casper Historic Preservation Board and the Alliance for Historic Wyoming. The store will have a celebration on Saturday, May 1 to mark the occasion.

Grant Street Grocery celebrates its 100th-anniversary on Sept. 15, 2018, in central Casper. The store is the last neighborhood grocery in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)
A historic photo shows Grant Street Grocery in the 1940s. The inset photo shows how the store looked shortly after it was built in 1918. (Casper College Western History Center)
The old interior of Grant Street Grocery is seen shortly after the store was closed by its previous owners in 2016. It reopened the following year after a complete gut rehab, making it the last surviving neighborhood grocery store in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)
A large ad in the Aug. 3, 1923, edition of the Casper Tribune lists the 75 small grocery stores that dotted the Casper and surrounding areas during the early oil boom.