Monday, February 4, 2013

Fox Brothers, South End Grocers

About six months ago, a SEHS member donated a billhead from Fox Brothers, Grocers that dates to June 7, 1895. It indicates that Mr. L. E. Spaulding sold 294 dozen eggs to Fox Brothers between May 7th and June 4th, 1895. At $0.17 cents per dozen, Fox Brothers owed Mr. Spaulding $49.48.



Why did Fox Brothers need 294 dozen eggs in one month? They sold them at the grocery that they operated at 685 and 687 Tremont Street, on the corner of Tremont and West Newton Streets.

In 1888, the publication Leading Business men of Back Bay, South End, Boston Highlands, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester described the store:
“Fox Brothers, Grocers…one of the very best examples of what a Metropolitan Grocery Store should be, with which we are familiar, is that afforded by the establishment of Messrs. Fox Brothers… we believe that it would be difficult for the most critical to suggest a needed improvement in the fitting up and management of the store under existing conditions. Neither pains nor expense is spared to make this establishment thoroughly attractive and ‘wholesome‘ looking, both within and without, and the result is seen in one of the neatest and handsomest Grocery Stores in the city. Fox Brothers…having had very nearly a quarter of a century's experience… it is only natural that they should be perfectly conversant with their business in every detail. The [store] comprise[s] one floor and a basement, their dimensions being 40 x 70 feet, and employment is afforded thirteen efficient assistants, who may be depended on to strive their utmost to show customers prompt and civil attention. The stock on hand is so large and varied that it would be idle to even attempt a full description of it, but it may be said to include all kinds of Groceries, both Staple and Fancy, and to be as remarkable for uniform merit as it is for variety. The very finest flavored Teas, Coffees and Spices are handled by this house, and those who are able to appreciate a good article in this line will find that their tastes may be fully suited here, as all grades, from the mildest to the strongest, are supplied at the lowest attainable rates. Canned Goods are also given particular attention, and some delicious relishes and condiments are also on hand.”
Now this site is home to the eastern portion of the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library but the Fox Brothers occupied this location from at least 1870 to at least 1915. They may have been there longer—these are just the earliest and latest dates that I found evidence for. The excerpt above indicates that, in 1888, Fox Brothers had “very nearly a quarter of a century's experience,” indicating that they had been in business since sometime in the 1860s.

The 1870 directory tells us that Charles E. Fox and Co. operated a grocery here and lived at 114 West Newton Street. By 1885 however, brothers John and Frank are listed as owning the grocery store and one or both may have lived at 114 West Newton Street. 114 West Newton Street was the same building as 685 Tremont Street, but the upstairs living quarters at 114 would have been accessed from a door on the West Newton Street side and the store accessed from the Tremont Street side. In 1905, John Fox was living at 126 Berkeley Street.

If you lived in the South End around the turn of the last century and wanted to contact them, all you had to do was call them on the telephone. The number? Trem. 230. Or you  might hop on the Tremont Street streetcar.