The Little Gem awaits restoration(Courtesy/Hazel Patton)
Editor's note: This column is a new feature from Salem Reporter to highlight local history in collaboration with area historians and historical organizations. If you have any feedback or would like to participate, please contact managing editor Rachel Alexander at [email protected]
Long before grocery store chains and convenience stores became a part of our lives, neighborhoods had small locally owned grocery stores. One such store was the Little Gem Grocery Store. It was located on private property on the corner of 17th and Chemeketa in the Court/Chemeketa Historic Residential District.
The Little Gem Grocery, a "Mom and Pop" neighborhood type grocery store, was located at 17th St. and Chemeketa in Salem. This tidy, little, white clapboard building sports advertising signs for 7UP, Pepsi-Cola, and Coca-Cola. (Salem Public Library/Ben Maxwell collection)
The Little Gem was well named. It was so little the display shelves were just one can deep. Longtime residents recall when they were children restocking the shelves with cans of food from the storage area in the garage. Pay was a choice of a piece of penny candy. The store also served as the social hub and gathering place where folks could learn news of the neighborhood … and of the neighbors. According to the National Register nomination the last residents recorded running the store were Howard and Myrtle Largent in 1942.
In 1997 the home, garage and Little Gem were sold. The new owner planned to demolish the store. However he did agree to let the neighbors have it if they could move it and find it a good home.
The Little Gem on the move (Courtesy/Hazel Patton)
The Gilbert House Children’s Museum offered a site for the little store but first it needed some work. A volunteer mover hauled it to a nearby neighbors’ backyard where folks worked for several months to restore and paint the structure. Then, in 1998, the Little Gem made its final journey through downtown and to its new neighborhood in Gilbert Village.
The Little Gem under restoration in a Salem backyard(Courtesy/Hazel Patton)
Salem residents attend a ceremony following the move of the Little Gem in 1998 (Courtesy/Hazel Patton)
Hazel Patton, center, at a ceremony following the Little Gem's 1998 move to A.C. Gilbert House Village (Courtesy/Hazel Patton)
Hazel Patton is a longtime Salem resident and historical preservation advocate.