Al’s IGA

From about 1940 through the early 1970s, Al’s IGA was a busy store in downtown Chester. Al Cross took over what had been the Grand Union.

In the 1800s into the early 1900s, it was known as the Fletcher Block. In the 1860s, Mr. Fletcher ran a tailor shop at this location. Fletcher is known to have made Civil War uniforms for officers.

Howard Peck told me that in the 19-teens it was two stores. As Howard told me, Mr. Richardson ran a grocery in one side. There was a pool hall in the other side. Howard said the pool hall drew all sorts of men of fine character. Howard’s parents told him to stay away.

Howard described the interior of the pool hall as being rather dark and smoky. There were two pool tables and a few slot machines. Spittoons, cigar smoke permeated the air.

IGA
Al’s IGA circa 1950s. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society

This location has been affected by a couple of bad fires in its long history. In 1888, the Central Hotel caught fire as well as a couple other buildings in close proximity. The Fletcher Block caught fire, but Chester firefighters were able to save the store. There was considerable damage.

When the store was rebuilt, it was extended maybe 14 feet closer to the inn. If you look at the upper level of the photo with article, you’ll notice on the left four windows very close together. Then look to the right and you’ll notice a space and then three more windows spaced further apart.

The space between the four and three windows shows is where the building was added on. At the historical society, we have a photo taken circa 1860 that shows the original, shorter addition.

After Al’s IGA closed, Baba Louis Bakery got their start here before moving to Proctorsville. In the 1980s, I ran an antiques shop here. At first I was only in half of the building. When the other side became available, I rented it. It was a great location.

After I closed my shop in 1987, I seem to remember two men from Grafton or Springfield opening a bookstore here. I remember it became two stores after I left. Anne Stein was in one side. Misty Valley Books came in and occupied both sides. It has since remained a bookstore. Today, the history continues as Blair Books & More.

The photo with this article is one of 18 photos in the 2020 Chester Historical Society calendar. They are available at Lisai’s Market, Erskine’s Feed Store, Salon 2000, The Framery of Vermont, Stonehouse Antiques Center, Blair Books & More, and Chester Hardware.

 

Instead of an old saying, I have a short story I want to tell. After Bud Nadeau’s celebration of life this past Saturday at the Legion, I went out to the bar to get a beer. I saw Jerry Stewart talking with his son. I jumped in and asked Jerry if he remembered skiing up Main Street with my brother Brian. “Yes,” he said. This is worth telling.

It had been snowing for some time. The town had plowed Main Street a couple hours earlier, but by now more snow had accumulated. Perfect conditions, they thought.

They tied a rope to the rear bumper of my father’s 1956 Ford. With my brother driving and Jerry being towed on skis, what could go wrong? They reached about 20 miles per hour when there was a slight setback.

Just above where Jerry lives today and Newsbank is where it happened. Unknown to my brother or Jerry, there was some excess salt on the road in one area. Salt melts snow.

Well, my brother drove through the melting snow in the road. Next is Jerry. You can imagine what an abrupt stop it would be when your skis leave snow and hit pavement.

Jerry described to me how the wind had been knocked out of him and that he couldn’t speak. John Leon “Gramp” Spaulding came up to Jerry and asked if he was ok. Gramp was shoveling snow at Readex/Newsbank when it happened. Jerry couldn’t catch his breath to reply. Gramp asked a couple more times. Finally, Jerry got his wind back.

I wish you could have seen the twinkle in Jerry’s eye as he recounted this story. Chester was a great town to grow up in.

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