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Friday, September 16, 2011

Don Maxwell Remembers Joe French

Joe French's variety and antique stores were discussed on last Monday's Blog. I had mentioned that Don Maxwell should have some stories about Joe French, as he lived next door to Joe's store. The other day I received an email from Don with some of his memories regarding Joe French. I thought I would share them with you.

Pete S

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I knew Joe French quite well as we lived next door all the years I lived in New Gretna until I was 24 years old. I remember when he built the store and lived upstairs. I believe he bought the property from Joseph Cramer, the same man my father bought his lot from. They had to fill it in some, as it was low there, and when they did all the excess rain water came over on us.

Don Maxwell in front of Clarence Mathis' store
(Photo courtesy of Betty Lamson West)

Joe had a so called variety store. You could buy just about anything but clothes there. My father did buy nearly all his groceries there.

Joe was always busy, and I remember, at one time, he had two clerks besides himself. They were Gene Sears and Talbert Loveland who we always called “Leaner” his New Gretna nickname. He was so named because he always leaned his head and neck to one side. After a few years Joe only had one clerk, “Leaner” for years. 

Gene Sears

Talbert Loveland outside Joe French's store

Joe's father was Houston French, and I believe he was a man of means as he had quite a few possessions like property etc. He also had property in Atlantic City in the Gardeners Basin area. I believe they were rental properties. I do know, like Phyillis Briggs said in a Blog comment, that he owned several houses in town, especially on South Maple Avenue.

Houston's father was Louis French who owned from the Parkway bridge in Port Republic up to and including the present Chestnut Neck boatyard, all the property around the monument, and up Chestnut Neck Road for quite a-ways.

The Frenches were an old revolutionary family and some of the first settlers in the Port Republic area. Joe's wife, Geraldine, was quite a cat and dog lover, and they had many. I remember her dog, Snookie, would come over every morning and defecate on our front walkway and mom would be mad.

Joe died in 1966 of a massive heart attack as he was a huge man, not too tall but very portly. Every Friday nite the place was crowded with people buying groceries and gas. He had two gas pumps with no electric to them. Some of us boys would pump them up full, as they held 10 gallons and had a pump handle that you would crank back and forth until it was full. when filling the car tank it was all gravity down to the gallon marks. Sometimes we would get a few pennies for pumping the tanks up and then go inside and spend it on candy. He also sold all kinds of magaznes and comic books. At 7 p.m. every weeknite he would turn on the Lone Ranger. How he loved that show. You could hear it outside the store.

One more little tidbit. Joe asked me onetime if I had any old burned out light bulbs as he said he would sell them for 10 cents a basket to people who hoped there would be one or two good ones.

Great Memories!

Don Maxwell 

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