H and B Grocery
128 - 30th Street, Newport News, VA 23607

THEN: NOW:
 
 1957 Anchor, p. 184  
06/09/04  


One of my favorite "Old Stomping Grounds" in downtown Newport News was located on 30th Street between
Washington Avenue and West Avenue on the south side of the street. There in a two story brick building
with a storefront on the first floor was a grocery store that was frequently used by many teachers who resided in downtown.
H & B Grocery was an independent grocery store owned and operated by Charles Burcher and Richard Hockaday.
"Charlie", as most folks called Mr. Burcher, operated this location and Mr. Hockaday ran their second location
in the East End on 31st Street in the 700-Block.
 
It was my pleasure to work on Saturday at the downtown store, and my fellow worker, Van Horton, and I
would open the store before store hours, putting out the produce racks in front of the store to tempt everyone
passing by the store, with beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables.
We would then stock the shelves and do general cleaning and waiting on customers.
All day, Mr. Burcher and two clerks would be busy taking and filling customer orders.
By mid-morning Van and I would load the blue Chevrolet Panel truck with the orders
to be delivered to the customers homes. This would continue for the rest of the day.
Downtown, then North End, and East End, and "all around town" as Van used to sing as we drove along.
We went into the homes of our customers, while they were busy shopping, traveling, or working
and place frozen foods in the freezer and perishables in the refrigerator.
(Try to imagine that today).
We had very few keys, most of the doors were simply left unlocked for us to make the deliveries.
Then, back at the store, we would reverse the process for opening and secure the racks
and put away the produce in the cooler, sweep down with dust absorbent, and chat for a minute and call it a day.
 
Times were not always so good for some of our neighbors.
Charlie Burcher never turned away a person looking for something to eat, and had no money to pay for it.
Mr. Burcher would have us deliver boxes of food to customers who could not afford to pay their bill at the store.
He never put one of them on a "Credit Hold" and refuse to sell them groceries.
Some customers were really ashamed to place in order because
they were in arrears with their "bill" as we called it back then.
That did not stop Charlie Burcher from making up a box of food and having Van and me deliver it to them.
Of course, it put a strain on the business, but he ran the business
with his heart for those who were hurting for whatever reason.
 
He trusted me so much, that after I successful completed Driver's Education taught by Coach Conn
and Driver's Training taught by that very brave Coach J.C. Range, he handed me the keys to the Chevrolet truck
and told me to go get my Virginia Operator's Permit out on Victoria Boulevard in Hampton.
I drove and parked that panel truck thanks to the fine training by Coach Range, and secure my permit.
Mr. Burcher rewarded me with a raise in pay, and allowed me to make deliveries alone in the city.
That was enough to give a young man some much needed confidence.
"Charlie" treated his wife like she was a Princess.
This gentle, compassionate man was one of the reasons Newport News
was such a wonderful place to grow up in the '50s.
 
- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 06/08/04
WOWZERS!  Thanks so much, Joe!


RED MARBLES

I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes.

I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes, but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.

"Hello Barry, how are you today?"

"H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus' admirin' them peas. They sure look good."

"They are good, Barry. How's your Ma?"

"Fine. Gittin' stronger alla' time."

"Good. Anything I can help you with?"

"No, Sir. Jus' admirin' them peas."

"Would you like take some home?" asked Mr. Miller.

"No, Sir. Got nuthin' to pay for 'em with."

"Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?"

"All I got's my prize marble here."

"Is that right? Let me see it" said Miller.

"Here 'tis. She's a dandy."

"I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red.

Do you have a red one like this at home?" the store owner asked.

"Not zackley, but almost."

"Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble", Mr. Miller told the boy.

"Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.."

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.

With a smile said, "There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn't like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store."

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man.

A short time later I moved to Colorado, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.

Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one.

Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died.

They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.

Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men.

One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts...all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband's casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her, and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband's bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.

"Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim
'traded' them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size....they came to pay their debt.."

"We've never had a great deal of the wealth of this world," she confided, "but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho "

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.


The Moral: We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds.

Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath.

Today I wish you a day of ordinary miracles ~
A fresh pot of coffee you didn't make yourself.
An unexpected phone call from an old friend.
Green stoplights on your way to work.
The fastest line at the grocery store.
A good sing-along song on the radio.
Your keys found right where you left them.


..... IT'S NOT WHAT YOU GATHER, BUT WHAT YOU SCATTER THAT TELLS WHAT KIND OF LIFE YOU HAVE LIVED!
 

- Butch Ragland ('63) of CO - 06/11/07
WOWZERS!!! This is my kind of tearjerker, Butch! Thanks so much!


Please let Butch Ragland ('63) of CO know how much I enjoyed reading
"Red Marbles" for we had a grocer in our midst by the name of Charlie Burcher who had the heart of Mr. Miller. Charlie never turned away a customer who was unable to pay for food when shopping at H & B Grocery Store; one of our Old Stomping Grounds in Newport News. Many times I witnessed his charitable acts of kindness, placing the purchase on the "Tab" knowing it would not likely be paid because the family was in dire circumstances. If the customer was too embarrassed to come to the store, Charlie would fill an order based on prior orders and have me deliver it to the family. I was not able to attend his funeral, but I am sure there were many grateful young men and women who paid their respects to a genuine gentleman with a kind heart.
 
- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 06/08/04
WOWZERONI!  How touching! Thanks so much, Joe!


Hi, Carol:

When I worked for H & B Grocery in Newport News, VA we had a reserved parking space for "Loading and Unloading" that allowed us to load the delivery truck back when groceries were delivered to the residence of our customers.
 

 

The co-owner of the store, Mr. Charlie Burcher owned a 1956 Mercury exactly like the one in the image above. She was a real beauty.

When the owner's wife came to town on Saturday Afternoons to shop, she would park anywhere she could find a parking space in a crowded downtown section. Then she would give me the keys to the car and ask me to go move it to the reserved parking space in front of the store. This eased her exit from downtown before 4:00 PM when the Shipyard 1st Shift stopped work, and she did not have to carry his purchases a long distance to her car.

1956 Mercury Custom Convertible


Needless to say, that was the best part of my job on Saturdays. I moved the truck to a regular space, located the Mercury and then fired that baby up, which usually had the top struck, and bring her around to the Reserved Parking Space in front of the store and park it. But I did not always take the most direct route back to the store. You know, heavy traffic, or something like that delayed my return to work.

Charlie Burcher would wink at me when he handed me the keys to this 1956 Mercury Convertible, knowing full well I might cruise a few blocks down Washington Avenue before returning to park it in the reserved space.
 

- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 02/14/08
What a charming memory! Thanks so much for sharing it with us, Joe!


Hi, Carol:

  Fred Field (June '45 - of CA) wrote about the Mennonite Colony in his message carrying the subject "Last Icon" and the cessation of Yoder Dairy home delivery on the Peninsula. He recalls:

"the Mennonites had a communal store on 30th Street, south side, just east of Washington Avenue. It was popular because of fresh produce and reasonable prices."

If I am not mistaken, this store was later the location of H & B Grocery, operated by Charlie Burcher and Dick Hockaday as their second location to the store situated in the 700-Block of 31st Street in East End.
 
- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 12/11/08
WOW!  Thanks so much, Joe, your memory just keeps getting better while mine fades away!

 

East Side, West Side

Words and Music by Lawlor and Blake - 1928
 

Down in front of Casey's
Old brown wooden stoop,
On a summer's evening,
We formed a merry group;
Boys and girls together,
We would sing and waltz,
While Tony played the organ on
The Sidewalks Of New York.

Chorus:
East side, West side,
All around the town,
The tots sang "ring a rosie,"
"London Bridge is falling down."
Boys and girls together,
Me and Mamie O' Rourke,
Tripped the light fantastic
On The Sidewalks Of New York.

 

 

Fruits and Vegetables clip art and Grapevine divider lines courtesy of http://members.fortunecity.com/abkldesign/index.html - 06/09/04

"East Side, West Side" midi courtesy of http://www.jbott.com/estwst.html - 06/09/04

"East Side, West Side" midi courtesy of http://www.kididdles.com/mouseum/s033.html
at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 11/12/03
Thanks, Dave!

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