Long-Time Resident Researches, Revives Memory of Neighborhood Grocery Store
Above: The property at 515-519 W. Grand River has been repurposed into several businesses, the most recent are Tabooli and Archives. The circa 1957 picture supplied by the East Lansing Historic District Commission shows storefronts appearing to be a cleaners, grocer and pharmacy.
Ed Marin has seen a lot of change. He's also seen a lot that has stayed the same.
So when the East Lansing resident and retiree heard the news that a grocery store might be in development plans for the city's urban core, he remembered a grocer he used to visit as a kid growing up in the '40s and '50s.
"It's really nothing new," says Marin, a community volunteer and long-time usher at The People's Church. "I remember walking by the grocery store on my way home from school. There was a drug store there, too—with a fountain counter and high stools."
Marin grew up in Chesterfield Hills, a neighborhood of winding streets just south of the two-lane highway that was once the major route to Detroit. Central Elementary School was about a half mile to the east, with a combination grocery store, drug store and cleaners a city block or two away from the top of University Drive. In the 1950s, a billboard for a local dairy perched on top of the low-slung commercial building—a pastoral touch at a time when farms surrounded East Lansing.
Today, the storefronts of 515-519 W. Grand River bear different names than Time Cleaners or East Lansing Pharmacy. There's no Guernsey Grocery, Kelly's Food Market or Park-N-Shop Grocery. In their places are Tabooli and Archives Book Shop, with modern signage rising from the roadside instead of signs in the windows and hand-painted advertisements on the brick sides.
"There's been some remodeling done to the building," says Marin. "But the overall look is pretty much the same."
Marin, of course, is talking about the exterior of the one-story brick building that sits just across W. Grand River from the Rosewood Ave. entrance to the Glencairn Neighborhood. Inside, things are different than Marin's recollection of dry goods, breads, produce and other staples filling the shelves instead of the vintage books, magazines and print memorabilia of the current Archives Book Shop.
"There was a counter facing you when you first walked in," says Marin. "I'd give a hand-written order from my mom to the grocer or clerk, and he would go and fill it. There was no going up and down the aisles yourself to get things."
Marin remembers bringing a bag or two of groceries home after elementary school. Sometimes, too, he might pick up a few things for a neighbor. His mom kept a running account with the store and would pay the balance once or twice a month.
"My dad was well-liked in the community and the grocers were our friends," Marin recalls. "Sometimes, the grocer would even flag me down on my way home from school, and have me take something home that my mom might have called in."
Marin's memories were rekindled after hearing that downtown East Lansing developers are trying to attract grocery stores at the proposed Park District and Center City developments.
Combining research with his remembrances of things past, Marin dived into the records of the various city and state libraries in Greater Lansing. He scoured city directories and discovered that Lansing and East Lansing boasted nearly 200 grocers during the time he was growing up in the '40s and '50s. He also found records that detailed the occupants of 515-519 W. Grand River from 1941-1976, but nothing much thereafter.
"You can identify the past occupants of every address on every street in the greater Lansing area by reviewing several sections of the directories," says Marin. "Someday, I'd like to start a small group here, maybe at The People's Church, to see what other people remember from around town."
Above: Ed Marin
Marin moved away from East Lansing within a few years of graduating high school in 1958. He attended college, got married, built a career as a banker, and raised two boys in Owosso. After 28 years, he came back with his wife Jane in 1991 to renovate and live in his parent's 1918 vintage home after they passed away.
"We enjoyed moving back into the house," says Marin, who lived in the house for two decades before downsizing to an East Lansing condo in 2001. "My wife had gone to MSU, and we met here when I was working and she went to summer school. We both remember how I used to park behind the Sears store when I worked downtown."
Marin recalls other things, too. As a kid, he used to go to the State Theater—near the corner of Abbot and Evergreen and now an empty lot—to watch Randolph Scott westerns for twelve cents. And he remembers getting his hair cut at a barbershop just across the street from the theater. Closer to home, he remembers riding his first bike—a Columbia—up and down the hilly tree-lined streets of his neighborhood, and later having a local bike shop on Harrison Road install a three-speed shifter. He remembers delivering papers along the general route of Grand River, Saginaw and Harrison, and he can still almost hear the sounds of his friends as they played "mushball" in vacant lots.
"That was when you took the stuffing out of half of the ball," Marin says. "That way, if you hit a window, it wouldn't break."
Memories like Marin's, as well as landscapes, neighborhoods and architecture are among the pieces that form a community's identity and contribute to quality of life, says Jessica Flores, Vice Chair of the East Lansing Historic District Commission.
"A lot of communities have a traditional historic downtown, while we have the quintessential historic neighborhoods," says Flores. "Our neighborhoods are like the patches in a patchwork quilt that make up the uniqueness of East Lansing."
Flores says the sense of place evoked by the various architectural styles within residential districts makes East Lansing a livable city. Through zoning and ordinances, she says, city commissions work hand-in-hand to protect and preserve the things that make the city unique, while ensuring growth can happen in a harmonious manner.
"We have a high quality of community life here in East Lansing that we want to protect and preserve," Flores says. "That sense of place plays into those fond memories of walking to school or getting groceries at the corner store or any number of things that make East Lansing an interesting place to live."