My Store, 1891


On the outside chance that you have visited a grocery store recently we offer this moment from 1891 down at 2420 Pacific Avenue. The neighborhood was busy with warehouses and breweries but along the main streetcar line a few no frills merchants sold small lots of food and dry goods to shoppers looking for a good no nonsense deal. John Watkins and Annie LaMotte rented the prime commercial storefront on the ground floor of the new Watson Building that was constructed in 1889. It presented twin gabled bay windows for apartments on the second floor and was eye catchingly fashionable in the high Victorian style of the day. They called their business MY STORE, a busy cram packed grocery store that spilled onto the wood plank sidewalk with everything from bagged potatoes, live oysters, barreled pickles and tinned stove oil.


On this particular day Mr. Lenard, a farmer with a bowler hat was delivering gunnie sacks of produce to Charlie Ecklund and Bob Taylor, clerks at the store. The short guy with the light colored hat is the bookkeeper, Herschel Rawlings, who presumably handled the cash in the transaction. Herschel chose to leave the employ of Watkins & LaMotte and later opened a dentistry office in Tacoma. Ecklund left for the Klondike a few years later where his produce skills no doubt came in handy on the way to the goldfields. Farmer Lenard might well have known fellow grower Ezra Meeker who left his hop farm to trade groceries and dry goods for gold dust in Dawson City in 1898. By then My Store was gone but the two story wood frame Italianate building survived well into the 20th Century.


The J.W. Watson Building at 2420 Pacific Avenue was photographed one last time in March 1945 as the Second World War was about to end. Considered part of Tacoma’s tired past, it was then torn down. Today the site is a Jack in the Box.

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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