Here’s a simple story told through a photograph, a small grocery store, its proprioress, her daughter perhaps and a puppy on a leash. Pearson’s Grocery sat at 702 South 35th Street, just across the street from Lincoln Park and a block away from Lincoln High School. The tiny wood frame store was on a busy streetcar corner that in 1918 would have been a perfect location for selling penny candies and sodas to students and milk and newspapers to the neighbors getting
home from work or downtown errands. The crispy painted wall sign advertising Tacoma milled Pyramid Flour was sized and oriented to passing streetcar passengers.
Presumably, the glass plate negative captures a portrait of Ms. Pearson in her long daily apron, sleeves rolled up and hair in a tidy bun. Her most popular goods were blazoned on the window signage and stacked inside the storefront. A hand written card in the window is a bit of soft sell merchandising-it says Lenox Soap Special 5¢ . The image is the work of an itinerant commercial photographer who made a living selling photos of merchants and small businesses in Pierce County around the time of the First World War.
Enterprising business women who operated small, independent shops and services like this grocery were not that unusual but quality photographs of them and their shops are fairly rare. The added charm of the little girl and her puppy give the image a singular, almost exquisite sense of the moment lifted out of a daily routine. The missing, broken corner of the negative gives the story a fragile subtext and a suggestion that it’s all the more valuable having survived a near disaster.
Taking the privilege of injecting a personal backstory into this photograph I need to thank Bellingham historian Gordy Tweet for giving me a small collection of glass plate negatives about 15 years ago. Gordy could tell from the signs on the storefronts in the collection that they were taken in Tacoma, Puyallup, Wilkeson and other south sound locations. He had made prints of some of them and I copied the rest and just recently I donated the collection to the Washington State Historical Society. Thanks to Ed Nolan and research folks at WSHS, images from the collection are being digitized and posted online. The subjects, stories and even the photographer have been a mystery but slowly the backstories are being uncovered. A major part of the puzzle is the identity of the photographer. None of the negatives have a brand or signature. The one important clue can be seen in this and other photographs. It’s the small suitcase that sits near the edge of the building. It may be the photographer’s camera case and the illegible graphics on it may reveal a solution. The glass plate negatives to come are remarkable so stay tuned.
A bit more on Pearson’s store from the elite investigator Jonathan White…..
Cool. I went to library yesterday and found Lawrence and Mary Pearson in the business directory. Lawrence owned several commercial properties including the Grand Hotel on 21st and Jefferson. Lawrence and Mary (Fressel) were married in Dec 1903 both of them late in their lives, Lawrence would have been 58 and Mary would have been 47. The first year the store opened was 1912 and it served as both their home and place of business. Lawrence died on 5 Oct 1917. The last entry of Pearson Grocery in the business directory was 1919. Mary was German and Lawrence was from Sweden. No children that I could find according to census records. And I haven’t found out what became of Mary after 1919.