By Joe Cleary | March 25, 2013
We take for granted today the convenience of just dropping by the local grocery store or convenience store to pick up a few things up for dinner or on the way home from work. Things were quite different for the pioneers before the turn of the century in earl Sarasota.
These pioneers were living off the land and what little they could get from Tampa. William Whitaker, who settled here in the early 1840s, found the area had nearly a year-round growing season so they could raise all the vegetables that they needed. Hogs were plentiful in the area so there was no shortage of meat. The hogs were so numerous that the Whitakers would round them up several times a year, just to keep them out of their gardens. When several hundred were in the pens, the Whitakers would load them onto rafts near the mouth of Hog Creek, then take them out to schooner in the bay, and ship them to Key West to sell.
For the pioneers coming to the Sarasota area, hunting, fishing and gardening were a way of life. However, as the small village grew, the need for a general store was becoming apparent.
In 1883, Alfred Bidwell opened his store in Sarasota on the bay near the foot of Cunliff Lane. Bidwell’s store was the largest south of the Manatee River but carried less that $200 worth of merchandise. The stock consisted merely of barrels of sugar, corn meal, grits, green coffee and flour. There were a few boxes of plug tobacco and block matches, and a few kegs of nails and gunpowder. There were no packaged or canned goods, no dry goods and no hardware. If you wanted meat or fish, you hunted and caught them yourself.
The year 1886 brought great change to the Sarasota area. Settlers from Scotland came to Sarasota in December of 1885 as part of a land development plan of the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company. With this influx of people and capital, a full-fledged general store was needed.
Aside from the general store of the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, the first general store in the village of Sarasota was opened in March 1886 by Furman and Will Whitaker. They sold everything from plug tobacco to gunpowder. If you wanted meat, you went to Hamlin Whitaker’s meat market on the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue, which opened in April, 1886. Whitaker butchered a steer once a week. Since ice was not available to preserve the meat, he could keep it for only a day or two. In order not to waste the meat, he would send half the steer to Manatee to be sold and sell the other half in Sarasota.
By 1900 there were two general stores in Sarasota. One particular store, Highsmith, Turner and Prime, did quite well after the turn of the century. Located on Main Street, it sold everything from diapers to caskets, including complete lines of groceries, hardware, feed and hay, plows, stoves and many other items. George Prime said in Karl Grismer’s “The Story of Sarasota,” “We did a mighty good business but very little of it was cash. One year we sold $100,000 worth of goods without receiving a $1,000 in cash over the counter. The principal mediums of exchange were alligator hides, cow hides, furs, chickens and produce of all kinds.”
From 1910 through the early 1920s, as Sarasota grew, the number of grocers grew with it. By 1924, there were 18 grocery retailers; 40 in 1926 and 45 in 1930. The photograph above, from the Fred Whitted collection shows a typical small grocery store during the early 1920s. Whitted Store, at City Terminal on Hog Creek (the present-day Centennial Park Boat Ramp near 10th Street and North Tamiami Trail), provided the basic staples and was typical of a small town grocery store.
Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!