Still Selling Candy after 55 Years: ‘First Fair-Skinned Italian Bride to Arrive in City.’
Peterborough Examiner September 2, 1967 Marijo Amer
The little brass bell that tinkles as you enter Minicola’s grocery store on Erskine Avenue is the same brass bell that has announced customers for 55 years.
And the sprightly white-haired lady behind the counter has been selling groceries and penny candy in the south end neighborhood store for 55 years.
Rose Minicola is 83 years old. She gets up with the sun as she has every workday since the store began in the days when Peterborough had wooden streets and supplies were fetched from the wholesalers in a horse and buggy.
Leonard Minicola was a market gardener who returned to Italy and married his wife in Rosetta, Valfortore province (sic). Their honeymoon was the trip back to Canada and when they arrived in 1903, Mrs. Minicola had her picture in the Examiner because she was the “first fair skinned Italian bride to arrive in the city.”
She explained that sea coast Italians were dark and inland Italians were fair; the majority of immigrants were form the coastal areas so an inlander was a rarity.
The Minicola’s owned 33 acres of land east of Erskine Avenue and while Mr. Minicola grew and sold his vegetables, Mrs. Minicola opened the store “for something to do.”
RUNS STORE BY HERSELF
Since her husband’s death 24 years ago, she has run the store by herself with the help of her only daughter, Mrs. Rose Williams, who shares the home behind the store with her.
What was the store like when it first opened? “This is it. It has never changed.” said Mrs. Minicola, as she pointed out the original glass candy case, the wooden butcher’s block and the long pinchers for reaching items on the top shelves that were bought at the local farmer’s market for 30 cents.
The big stove in the middle of the store has gone and the meat cleaver hangs unused replaced by packaged bologna and cold cuts. The jars that held candies and the boxes of cookies to be sold by the pound have been replaced by packages and boxes, but the store still has on e of the largest assortments of penny candy in town.
Mrs. Minicola, who is called “momon” (Italian for grandmother) by her four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, says children today have more money to spend but they still spend it on the same things: chocolate bars and gum.
Half a century ago Red Fella brand spearmint gum was the favorite. Now it’s bubble gum. “I’ve never seen children chew so much bubble gum.” said Mrs. Minicola.
BRAND NAMES SURVIVE
Jersey milk chocolate bars and Maple buds are the only brand names that have survived as long as the store, but much of the penny candy is the same, “only more expensive,” said Mrs. Minicola whose wholesale bill for candy and tobacco is at least $100 each week.
She has most of the store’s receipts for 55 years and has always paid cash. With a chuckle she said “I can’t read or write English, but I can count all right.”
Until she was in her 50’s, Mrs Minicola was a familiar if unusual sight as she carried vegetables from the fields behind the house in three baskets – one in each hand and one on her head.
She has given that up and watches TV in her spare time instead, but her health is excellent except for the occasional bout of bronchitis.
PASSING OF STYLES
She has seen a variety of fashionable outfits during her years in the store and she disapproves equally of miniskirts and her own 1903 dress in the accompanying picture.
“It took 14 yards of material to make that dress,” she said, in the same tone of annoyance she used to describe miniskirts as “silly.”
Though the store is on a fairly isolated corner, Mrs. Minicola has had only one break-in and she handled that with a broom four years ago. The two thieves were not caught but they had the humiliation of being chased empty handed by a 79 year old woman who says “they were more scared than I was.”
Four of Mrs. Minicola’s sisters followed her from Italy. One is in the United States and three are in Peterborough. The rest of her family is in the city, with the exception of granddaughter Mrs. Thomas Cullen, who is visiting Mrs. Minicola now with her family from Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.
Mrs. Minicola has many things to remind her of the early days: her ornate brass bed, the antique baby carriage in the attic, and her telephone.
The phone she has now is a modern one, but in 1907 the Minicola’s paid $40 in advance , plus the cost of telephone poles from the exhibition grounds to Erskine Avenue, to have their telephone installed.
SHOULD PENSION PHONE
They also had to sign up for three years service. Recently, when the service had been in use for nearly 60 years, Mrs. Minicola suggested to a telephone company representative that the phone be pensioned off.
“He didn’t think it was funny,” she said.
And Mrs. Minicola isn’t amused when anyone suggests that she retire. Leaving the store in which she spends 12 hours a day would make a big gap in a busy life.
She no longer stocks coal oil by the gallon or vinegar by the barrel or lard by the 20 pound bucket and the supermarkets have taken the grocery customers, leaving her with the catch-trade.
The old shelves, once white, then grey, now blue and yellow and soon to be pale green, hold the things people run out of – canned goods and dairy foods and bread.
“It’s enough for me now, I’m satisfied,” she said.