Ghosts of Main Street: Sweets for all from LaGoe’s to the Penny Store

July 5, 2018

By Julie Traynor

This hot weather has us thinking of the old swimming hole and the ways we dealt with the heat around Marion, Michigan. If you were a kid, you headed for the closest swimming hole and along the Middle Branch there were many. Marion’s Mill Pond was the place to be.

After a day at the beach, a kid needed a treat and local kids had plenty of choices. The candy counter at the Texaco next to the dam enjoyed brisk traffic, as did the grocery stores, Bernie’s, Borders and Johnson’s. The Ben Franklin had a great candy counter. But the biggest draw of them all was the Penny Store, the Little Store or the Party Store, which ever you prefer. All were proper vernacular in this town for the little Middle Branch Grocery.

From the time Marion was new until the summer of 2012 the building which began as LaGoe’s Confectionery – Cigars and Drugs – was a favorite stopping place for locals and travelers alike. Herb LaGoe sold candies, sweet treats, ice cream, soft drinks, light lunches and postcards and reading materials in a handy location between the river and the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks. Its close proximity to the depot made this a popular stop for many a traveler seeking to fill a sweet tooth. Folks came and went all day. We’ve heard of a certain ice cream and cookie concoction which was very popular. Perhaps the original cookies and cream was a Marion invention.

LaGoe’s building in the 1930’s was the home to Cramer›s Drug Store and later Pearl’s Harbor, a café. By the early 1950’s it was the Middle Branch Grocery. 

LaGoe’s building in the 1930’s was the home to Cramer›s Drug Store and later Pearl’s Harbor, a café. By the early 1950’s it was the Middle Branch Grocery. 

The building saw other uses for a time, becoming Cramer’s Drug Store, Pearl’s Harbor and at one point gaining an appendage, mostly over the river, which housed for short times, a barber shop and a living space upstairs. It was Don Jefferies’ purchase of the property that launched the Middle Branch Grocery name. Jefferies doubled the size of the store when he took in the Dairy Delight. He also purchased the first license for packaged liquors and beer and wine to go in 1954. People soon began calling it the Party Store’. It was also the go to when a grocery item was needed after the grocery stores had closed for the day.

In the 1950’s after the demise of the passenger trains, the Little Store or Penny Store was still a draw for every kid in town with change to spend. It boasted the largest candy counter this side of Cadillac. Nut Chews, red and black licorice, wax lips and fingernails, wax pop bottles filled with brightly colored liquid sugar, Tootsie Rolls, Pixie Stix, Fizzies, Bazooka and an endless array of penny candies kept us on a sugar high as long as our 25c worth lasted. And that kind of change bought a lot.

On any given summer day there were bicycles parked on the sidewalk in front of the store. Kids were inside shopping or outside comparing their purchases. There was also a great selection of novelty ice creams, harking back to an earlier day.        

The Middle Branch Party Store, the little store between the river and the tracks, was last known as Grandy’s Middle Branch Grocery and Joyce Grandy and her family was our last genial proprietor. She filled the capable shoes of those before her from LaGoe to the more recent Don Jefferies, Milt Nowland’s and Mel Helmboldt’s.

The current “Middle Branch Grocery”. 

The current “Middle Branch Grocery”. 

The building remembered well by so many was razed late in the summer of 2012. Today, visitors and residents alike are able to enjoy a ‘visit’ to the Penny Store when they stop by the deck which covers the site. Picnic tables are available and a stairway leads to a footbridge and access to parking and the Mill Pond beyond.

Because of its great popularity and proximity to the tracks, the old LaGoe’s was featured in many a photograph. It will live long from the front of old postcards and in the hearts of many a resident with a sweet tooth.

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