Ideal Market Closes, 1999

January 17, 1999

Harvey Winthrop, owner of Ideal Market, gets a hug from longtime customer Lorraine Yagoda on Jan. 17, 1999, during a farewell gathering at the store. Founded in 1921, the store is the last of downtown Duluth’s full-service grocery stores to close its doors. (Renee Knoeber / News-Tribune)

IDEAL MARKET CLOSES

CUSTOMERS BID GOODBYE TO STORE OWNER, FRIEND

By Steve Kuchera, News-Tribune, Jan. 18, 1999

On Sunday afternoon, Harvey Winthrop did what he has done for years — he stood behind the counter at the Ideal Market and Bakery, greeting people coming through the door.

But this time it was different. Winthrop wasn’t just greeting customers and friends, he was welcoming guests to a going-away party.

Winthrop has sold the Ideal Market, the last downtown Duluth grocery, and will shortly close the family business he’s operated since the mid-1960s.

“Thank you for coming,” he said as more old customers came in.

“Take care of yourself,” Anita C. Cerio told Winthrop, giving him a hug. “It’s been a pleasure having you here. This was the best store down here.”

When George Winthrop and Lewis Camenker founded the market in 1921, there were at least 30 similar grocery stores downtown.

But over the years, shoppers’ habits changed and small, neighborhood stores vanished. Last fall, son Harvey Winthrop sold the building at 102 W. First St. to Life House Youth Center, which plans to convert it into a teen center.

He hasn’t decided what he’ll do after closing the store later this month, although he’s considering selling real estate.

“I’m used to working 12 hours a day, six days a week,” he said. “I’m used to staying busy.”

“He’ll find things to do,” although it will be nice to have more time together, to see friends and family, said Esther, Harvey’s wife of 38 years.

A customer does some afternoon shopping at the Ideal Market on West First Street in downtown Duluth in October 1997. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

Esther called Sunday’s get-together the family’s “Mitzva” — good deed — for the day. Esther and Harvey Winthrop and their daughter Pam Lauer greeted people as they entered the store, guiding them to a guest book and a table full of food.

Customers and friends gathered and visited in aisles between half-empty shelves. Son-in-law Bill Lauer videotaped guests’ reminiscences of Harvey and George Winthrop and the store.

During a lull, Winthrop, 69, said he’ll miss the people the most. And they will miss him.

“He was always pleasant to everyone,” Cerio said. “He treated everyone with respect. He’s a real gentleman.”

“He did favors for me,” said Ron Jensen. “He would deliver things. He gave me rides to the bus station. I hate to see him leave. He’s been a real friend.”

“He’s a people person, very concerned about people,” Bob Bulloch said.

Over the years, Winthrop showed his concern in various ways. He held the money for people who were down and out, picking out their groceries and delivering them as needed. Several years ago he stopped selling lottery tickets, feeling that many customers couldn’t afford them.

Winthrop’s son Marc couldn’t attend Sunday’s party, but he wrote to tell how, when he was a teen-ager, he became upset over his father’s habit of simply ordering shoplifters out of the store, rather than having them arrested.

Then, one day, Marc chased a man carrying a boom box who had stolen a carton of cigarettes and knocked down a friend. Marc tackled the man. In the fall, the shoplifter’s stereo shattered.

“When I looked at his face, at that moment, I realized that the boom box laying in pieces may have been his only possession,” Marc wrote. “I suddenly understood why my father was so lenient with some of the people who frequented the Ideal Market, how he has always and continues to live out his values, and how he has become such an important person in so many people’s lives.”

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The News Tribune ran another story about Ideal Market a couple months earlier, on Nov. 26, 1998:

Ideal Market owner Harvey Winthrop, seen here in November 1998, soon will be closing the business. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

IT WAS IDEAL

THE LAST OF DOWNTOWN GROCERS WILL CLOSE SHOP IN JANUARY

By Paul Adams, News-Tribune

In an era of 24-hour warehouse retailing, the Ideal Market and Bakery is a bit of Americana: A melting pot of a grocery store where downtown professionals looking for ethnic specialties and street people looking for basic staples get in line behind the same cash register.

Whether the customers are paying with a Visa Gold Card or food stamps, owner Harvey Winthrop usually greets them by name with the same resonant, radio-quality voice.

“I like people, there’s no question about it,” Winthrop said while on a break from the front counter. “I’m going to miss the Ideal very, very much.”

The last of the downtown grocers — and one of the few that still makes house calls — will close sometime in January. Winthrop, 69, recently sold the building, at 102 W. 1st St., to Life House Youth Center, which plans to convert it into a teen center.

The store will be missed by downtown workers who rely on the market for fresh ricotta or feta cheese, grape leaves and other specialties. But the loss may prove greatest among the downtown’s poor people and among elderly shut-ins, who lack transportation or the ability to shop on their own. To them, the Ideal Market has been everything its name suggests.

“He (Winthrop) has taken care of a lot of people over the years and I don’t think anybody has any understanding of how much he really has done from that perspective,” said Duluth Police Chief Scott Lyons.

Lyons went to work as a delivery boy for Winthrop right out of high school in the 1970s. He remembers Winthrop as part grocer and part banker for the city’s down and out.

Winthrop would hold their money for them and pick out their groceries as needed. Lyons would deliver the parcels to many of downtown’s flophouses and low-income apartment buildings, such as the Palmer House, the State Hotel and Gardner Hotel.

“He talked to them and treated them with lots of respect, and many times gave people things because he knew they couldn’t afford to buy them,” Lyons recalled.

Winthrop never called attention to such services, or his generosity. As Lyons put it, “He never tooted his own horn.” But word gets around on the street.

The facade of the former Ideal Market at 102 W. First Street in downtown Duluth in December 2000, before it was converted to the Life House teen center. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Over the years, many longtime customers — rich and poor — have rewarded good service with uncommon loyalty.

Lucille Rugowski first sampled Ideal Market produce as a child growing up on Park Point. Her father, who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, became a customer after seeing the market’s goods delivered to ships visiting the Duluth harbor. As an adult, Rugowski carried on the tradition and has been a customer for more than 50 years.

“I appreciate that we’ve had a charge account there for many, many years and he delivers,” said Rugowski, who doesn’t own a car. With few exceptions, she gets all of her groceries from Winthrop.
“I walked through Cub (Foods) once and that was enough for me,” she said. “It’s too big, too many things.”

Though the Ideal Market remains a sentimental favorite, business hasn’t been good for Winthrop the past two years. Downtown just doesn’t attract shoppers like it used to, Winthrop says.

Founded in 1921 by Winthrop’s father, George, and a partner, Lewis Camenker, the Ideal Market was once one of downtown’s larger grocery stores, but it had plenty of competition. In the early years, the store was among at least 30 similar grocery stores serving downtown shoppers and business people.

George Winthrop, who later split with his partner, struggled to maintain his share of the market through world wars, depression, cold wars and recessions. Harvey took over in about 1965 after finishing college and a stint in the Army.

Harvey Winthrop keeps this 1931 newspaper ad taped to his office wall. Check out the prices: 65 cents for a 2-pound can of coffee, 9 cents for a pound of cranberries, 31 cents for a pound of butter. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Over the years, the competition slowly faded along with the department stores and offices that left town or moved to Miller Hill.

In 1978, Red Owl closed and the Ideal Market was all alone downtown.

“My father died in 1977 and my mother in 1978. Neither one lived to see that we were the last grocery store downtown,” Winthrop said.

It was a victory for the store and business was exceptionally good for a few years. But retailing trends would soon overtake the Ideal Market.

“Stores started this new concept . . . where they locate on the outskirts of the city with big parking lots. They’re geared to the automobile,” Winthrop said.

Duluthians are known for thrift, and it didn’t take long for the traffic to diminish downtown as shoppers flocked to big-box discount stores. That combined with the loss of jobs on West First Street made it tough for the full-service grocery store to thrive.

“For years, parking was quite a problem downtown,” Winthrop said. “I’m sorry to say today parking is really not a problem . . . because I feel there is not enough retail left downtown.”

First Street retailers say they will miss the Ideal Market and the niche it filled for customers and downtown workers.

“I think it’s a draw for my business as well as his,” said Paul Draeger, owner of Duluth Liquor, 32 W. First St. “There’s nothing (like it) downtown.”

But the Duluth business community may not be rid of Winthrop for long. He doesn’t plan to rest much in retirement. In fact, he may even get a job selling real estate, volunteering or promoting Duluth in some fashion. It’s time to move on, he says, without regret. And he’s certain his parents would approve of the decision.

“They would be extremely happy and they would be very proud of me for having lasted this long and being the only grocer downtown,” Winthrop said. “I’ve had good years in the business and they would have been very happy with that.”

Winthrop hasn’t set a date for closing yet. It will probably occur sometime in mid-January. Sometime before then, he will announce a farewell party for all his customers.

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Share your memories of Ideal Market and downtown Duluth in general by posting a comment.

10 Responses

  1. Paul Goins

    Just want to thank Harvey for giving me a opportunity to work for him while I was at UMD. My daughter just graduated from college and was born while I worked at Ideal Market. Harvey was definitely a blessing in my life.

  2. Judy Endresen-Worthy

    I remember the Ideal Market very well. My father was the owner of Endresen Sound Company just about a block away and we did most of our shopping there. I remember it as a very happy, friendly place to shop. I won a drawing there when I was little and the prize was a Howdy Doody doll – I had lots of fun with that for many years!

  3. misty johnson

    Ideal Market AND FIchtners Meats were Both great places for downtown workers to stop on breaks or for lunch stuff. Forgot to take something out for dinner? No Problemo! I miss these guys and European Bakery as well. If the First Street Coney Island and Sammy’s ever close……downtown Duluth will Surely Be Dead in my eyes…..sooooo many happy memories in all of these places.
    Not only were/are all these places Handy and provided Great Service……The people behind them, be it the owners or employees, were always there, welcoming and with a smile for Everyone.
    (The folks at Fichtners always remembered my dogs names!)
    AND OMG….look at the newspaper clips showing Ideals phone numbers…..remember they started with words or alpha…ours was Market or M A for short. hahhahahaha

  4. Ideal Bakery had the best raised glazed and sugared doughnuts around.
    I used to by them almost every morning at the Candy Bar, across the avenue from Washington Jr.
    Ahhhhhhhh…a Coke and a raised glazed….breakfast of champions.

  5. When I worked in Duluth, I had several vendors who came to town and stayed the night before there visit to the plant. They wanted to know where they could buy bakery to bring for the workers when they arrived at the plant. I recommended the Ideal Market and Bakery, since I stopped there to pick up grocery and meat items about once a week. Harvey was a hit with a couple of my vendors, one of which grew up in Philadelphia and the other in Brooklyn. His store reminded them of their youth, plus his husky voice appealed to them (his pastries were great too). Harvey got to know these guys and when they called from their hotel room to order 3 dozen assorted rolls to be picked up the next morning, Harvey took time to learn more about these young fellows and their life out east.

    Sometimes, in the summer, rather than go out for supper, we would stop by Ideal, pick up some steaks, lettuce, tomatoes and corn on the cob, and fix them on a weber by Lake Superior. The Ideal was a great grocery store and Harvey, along with his staff, always made us feel appreciated whenever we stopped in. I thought the Ideal would go on forever, but I was wrong.

  6. I would just like to acknowledge my great uncle Louie Sylvester who worked at Ideal Market for many, many years and made the best Pasties. I miss him and my favorite Pasties.

  7. Mike

    I worked for a distributor and Harvey was one of my customers, as was a half dozen other downtown accounts. It was tough to make any money in these smaller stores, but they were the best to call on in terms of a friendly smile and conversation. I always looked forward to seeing Harvey as well as the other downtown owners and managers. The article and pictures brought back many fond memories.

  8. Andrew Flick

    has anybody considered owning up a small grocery store downtown? I know that there is obvisouly a need for it. people who don’t have a car must take the bus and if you have ever tried doing it is very tiring and I’m 23 and say that. if I had the money I’d open one right now. I wouldn’t expect to make a killing but sometimes the reward in the job is helping others and filling a need not your wallet

    1. Andrew

      Fourth Street Market still is open a few blocks up the hill at Fourth Street and First Avenue East, and I think the deli occupying the former Romano’s Grocery location, in the Greysolon Plaza, still carries a few groceries. But from what I understand, Ideal Market carried a more comprehensive selection of items before it closed.

  9. We miss Ideal Market very much. Harvey was a great guy, and everyone at the store seemed friendly and cheerful most of the time. During the bus strike, Harvey would stop and give me a ride to work. Ideal also had the best orange glazed donuts in town. We were so sorry to see the closing of Ideal Market.

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