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Mystery Photo #91: Duluth Grocers

This old photo shows two men standing in a grocery store. The back of the photo indicates it’s in Duluth, Minn. and gives the names of the men. Unfortunately, the photo of the back side of this photo is blurry and difficult to read, but it looks like Gust Hjelm is one of the names.

Who are these two men? Where was this store? When was this photo taken? There are probably more mysteries than those.

Below is the photo of the back side:

Here is a manipulated version in an attempt to get something easier to read:

And lastly, here’s a recrop to show a little more clearly the Toasted Corn Flakes, etc. on the shelves.

12 Comments

Mike Creger

about 5 months ago

Labor World of February 1916 lists grocers, including Gust Hjelm at 2001 W. Second St. 

January 1919 Duluth News Tribune has notes from the annual organizing meeting of the Swedish Mission church, including the naming of deacons Gust Hjelm and Axel Lundgren.

hbh1

about 5 months ago

Gust Mauritz Hjelm (born in Sweden in 1883) owned a grocery store at 2029 W. Third St. in the 1930s-1940s. Before that, in the 1920s, he owned a grocery at 1810 Piedmont Ave. 1910s-1920s at 2001 W. Second. (Zenith Telephone Lincoln 73X). In 1910 he's a clerk at the same Second Street Grocery store, which was then called Erickson & Kjall.

Gust died in 1945.

hbh1

about 5 months ago

PS The back says "grocery store of fathers; [grocer? cashier?] Gust Hjelm; Duluth Minn"

Paul Lundgren

about 5 months ago



An interesting footnote: The name "Gust Hjelm" appears in a list of the "Inter-church board of directors" on the letterhead of a 1923 missive from the superintendent of the Duluth Mission, I. E. Nolte, to the warden of the State Board of Parole, J. J. Sullivan, asking for the release of Max Mason. In the letter, Nolte states he is "convinced of (Mason's) absolute innocence."

Mason was a circus worker with Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie, the victims of the 1920 Duluth lynching. Following the lynching, Mason and another circus worker, William Miller, were tried for the alleged rape of Irene Tusken. Miller was acquitted, but Mason was sentenced to 7-30 years. He was discharged from prison in 1925 on the condition that he leave the state.

Matthijs

about 5 months ago

I thought I’d try a different approach and see if the scale on the countertop could provide any additional information about the photo. It turns out it does, but only if the only thing about the photo that interests you is the scale. 

It’s a Toledo brand but a rare style. The company seems to have made very few models with a combination of a rectangular display window on the top and oval pendulum window on the bottom. This scale seems to be an exact match, but it is so deteriorated that it doesn’t provide any more information than the scale shown in the photo itself.

Toledo Model No. 25 is slightly different (it has a curved top window) but the text on the exterior is clearly the same. It says, “Correct Weight Shown Above. When red weight is on pendulum, read red figures. Springless.”

Neither of the above scales show the tray being used on the scale in the Duluth photo. That is a glass milk tray as can be seen on this similar scale.

It’s also worth noting that the Duluth store scale has a mirror attached, similar to this one so the client can see what Mr. Hjelm is seeing on his side of the scale. He appears to be early in his career in the photo, and he or his boss may have felt that he did not yet have the trust of the community (or that the community did not yet trust that new type of springless scale).  

The scale in the Duluth store photo is a very early model Toledo scale and therefore only tells us the picture must have been taken some time after 1903. And many Toledo scales are still in good working condition, so it doesn’t provide an upper limit on the year the photo may have been taken. But it does not seem like the particular model shown in the photo is available anywhere in good condition, so if the Hjelm family took care of that scale and passed it down, it is probably worth quite a bit of money today.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 5 months ago

There is quite a series of Duluth grocery photos (including many scales!) on MN reflections, such as this unidentified store.

I don't see anything under Hjelm, though. There were SO MANY small grocery stores in those days.

Matthijs

about 5 months ago

Given that Mr. Hjelm looks under 40 in the photo and the caption describes him as an employee, 2001 W. Second St. seems the most likely address for the photo. 



This satellite photo from 1948 shows the neighborhood the store served when it was a still grid of standard Duluth city blocks.



This satellite photo from 1972 shows that grid in the process of being broken up by the construction of Highway 53/Piedmont Ave, with the partially finished road section pointing directly at the location of the shop. The street pattern is still intact but most of the buildings in the way of the new road have already been torn down. This includes the store at 2001 W. Second St., with construction not yet begun on the building that will stand in its place, Midtowne Manor II (completed in 1982), while the shape and shadow of its partner building, Midtowne Manor I (completed in 1971), is clearly visible just to the north of the unfinished highway section.



The building that housed the store that Mr. Hjelm later owned one block to the north seems to still be standing.

Matthijs

about 5 months ago

There’s also another address that HBH1 listed as a market of Mr. Hjelm that seems interesting. If you Google 1810 Piedmont Ave, it shows up as a house in not very densely populated residential area at the top of the hill. This is both an unlikely location for a local market (there isn’t even a sidewalk on the even side of the street) and well outside the neighborhood of the other two stores where Mr. Hjelm worked. 

I’m open to being corrected, but it seems more likely that the address refers to this short street section where Piedmont Avenue cuts off a corner of 18th Avenue West just below Second Street.

A 1902 map of Duluth confirms there used to be a non-residential building at that location, but I don’t know if it would in fact have been reasonable at the time to give that building the address of 1810 Piedmont Ave.  

The same 1902 map also shows the "Swedish M.E. Ch" at Third Street and 20th Avenue West, which is likely the Swedish Mission (Evangelical) Church mentioned by Mike where Mr. Hjelm was a deacon.

Matthijs

about 5 months ago

Just to resolve the side-question of my own creation, Mr. Hjelm’s 1810 Piedmont Ave market does seem to have been a corner store at the end of West Second Street where it meets Piedmont Avenue. There is a building at that location visible in the 1948 satellite image above. If you follow Second Street from inside the red circle at 20th Avenue West over to Piedmont Avenue (the road that cuts across the grid toward the top of the image) there is a small triangular building visible between the grid-line drawn onto the map crossing Second Street and Piedmont Avenue. The house directly next to this triangular building, on Second Street itself, is still standing and has the address 1812 W. Second St., six houses down Second Street even though it is almost on the corner. This would make sense if the neighboring buildings that previously lined the short stretch of Piedmont Avenue shared the Second Street block numbering, starting from where Piedmont Avenue meets 18th Avenue West. This would give the triangular building seen in the satellite image the address 1810 Piedmont Ave.

Matthijs

about 5 months ago

One last comment here, as I found an odd coincidence that ties all the previous comments together in an unexpected way (other than the model of the scale, which was never all that relevant to anything anyway). 

Mike mentioned a Labor World from 1916 with Duluth grocery listings showing that Gust Hjelm owned a store at 2001 W. Second St. at the time. This same newspaper lists J.W. Lent as the owner of a grocery store at 1810 Piedmont Ave.

The Duluth Evening Herald from May 16, 1910 states that J.W. Helm was granted a permit for a concrete foundation on “Piedmont avenue between Eighteenth and Nineteenth avenues” confirming my guess of where the store was located.

According to HBH1, Gust Hjelm later purchased J.W. Lent’s grocery at 1810 Piedmont Ave.

Paul posted a letter with Gust Hjelm’s name on the letterhead in support of the release of Max Mason from prison, stating a belief in his innocence. According to this document, J.W. Lent was juror number 9 on the jury that convicted Max Mason.

Whether the two men ever discussed the case, and what effect that had on either of them, is unknown.

Paul Lundgren

about 5 months ago

Well, this is all coming together, isn't it?

I think I might have solved the blurriest word on the back of the photo. It looks like it might read:

grocery store of fathers cousin Gust Hjelm Duluth Minn
Oh, and I guess I should note the above mentioned Axel Lundgren is probably my great grandfather. (He wasn't the only Axel Lundgren in town, so I can't be certain.)

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 5 months ago

This is an example of how modern road construction has completely changed the flow of traffic in that neighborhood from what it was when Mr. Hjelm was a grocer. A nearby store on West Third Street was a bustling millinery/hat shop owned by Swedish immigrant Amanda Davidson. 



The streetcar used to go right past that old store location, and I too was confused by some Piedmont addresses listed back in about 1910 which now correspond to buildings built in the 1940s or '50s in a completely different part of Piedmont. 



This old map shows the streetcar lines in 1911, and you can also see it in the map Matthijs linked to, as well. 

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