LAIDLAW’S GROCERY STORE, PINCHER CITY
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Prairie Canadian towns and settlements abound with frontier tales of their early businesses. Laidlaw’s Grocery Store, located north of the railway tracks in the midst of Pincher City, now known as Pincher Station, was one such example.
With the construction of the Crowsnest Branch of the CPR in 1897-98, Pincher City blossomed as a trading and ranching centre. As the closest railway depot to the older and more populous agricultural centre to the south, Pincher Creek, business opportunities flourished. Locals found it more convenient to shop in Pincher City than to risk the often treacherous two-mile trail that linked the two communities. Pincher Creek pioneers often did some shopping in the centre to the north whenever they had to meeting one of the incoming passenger or freight trains. The result was that several places of commerce sprang up in this railway settlement during the early 1900s.
SUCCESS AS A GROCERY STORE
The Laidlaw Grocery Store in Pincher City was one of those success stories. Established prior to 1909, it flourished here as a well-patronized store for over thirty-five years, continuing in business until the autumn of 1946, when it closed its doors for the final time. Two generations of Laidlaws operated the business: first it was William Sr. and then William Jr. who lived from 1883 until October 27th, 1946. This Scottish-born family had a keen business sense and an ability to deal with people. Part of this was represented in their community endeavors. William Jr. served several terms on the Board of the Pincher City School District No. 1725, and was a member of the Masonic Lodge as well as the Order of the Eastern Star. From May 1935 to his passing more than a decade later he served as Pincher City’s official Postmaster. The transfer of the Post Office to his store was a strategic business move: the postal traffic translated into an increase commercial volume for the Laidlaw Store.
Over the decades, this place of commerce sold a variety of goods, but groceries were the mainstay of the business. For instance, under the February 1916 banner “Bargains in Groceries”, everything from teas and coffees to cereals and soda biscuits dominated the shelves. These were supplemented by such perishable items as fruit (particularly apples which sold for $2.10 per box, a price that was to increase by forty cents within 18 months) and smoked meats, including bacon which sold for 27 cents per pound, hams which retailed at a quarter per pound, and boneless rolled shoulder which came in at a real bargain at only 22 cents a pound. Staples such as a one hundred-pound bag of B.C. Granulated Sugar went for $8.45 while a twenty-pound pail of Rogers B.C. Syrup retailed at one dollar and a quarter. Barrels of 280 pounds of coarse salt sold for $3.25.
Fresh fruit could be found on the shelves of Laidlaw’s Store as early as March, 1909. Apples, oranges and lemons were advertized, as were their canned and dried counterparts. A decade later, fresh oranges sold for sixty cents a dozen, while a dozen large lemons retailed at 35 cents. Jams, pickles, and syrups adorned the rear shelves. The store was well-stocked with fresh and salt pork and Mackenzie’s Farm and Garden Seeds. Advertized at the “lowest possible prices”, the latter would have been particularly popular during the spring as local farmers and gardeners planned the upcoming seasons’ crops.
One of the retail staples sold in high quantities over several decades at the Laidlaw Store was flour. 98 pound sacks of flour sold between $4.50 and five dollars apiece, depending upon the brand name. Laidlaw’s stocked Five Roses, Prairie Pride, and Harvest Queen which gave the store’s ever loyal customers a choice of brand name flour.
HARDWARE STORE ITEMS
Particularly during the pre-First World War years, the Laidlaw Store also carried a wide selection of hardware items. These sold well to Pincher City ranchers and farmers, saving them a trip into Pincher Creek. Magnet Cream Separators, which took first prize in one of the Winnipeg Exhibitions, was highly featured in the store’s promotional literature. Also in stock were barbed wire, woven fence wire, and Cypher’s Model Incubators and Brooders. Agricultural products such as Dr. Hess’ Stock Food regularly sold for three dollars per 25 pound pail in 1930. Laidlaw offered a ten per cent discount to his customers.
An old image taken of the exterior of the Laidlaw Store, perhaps dating prior to World War One, depicted a very well-stocked interior. Looking in from the street, customers could note through six big window panes divided by the entrance door a wide variety of canned goods. Baskets, which normally would contain grains or fresh fruit, were situated on the wooden boardwalk outside. Shovels, an axe, and a washboard, indicative of the hardware goods stocked there, also adorned the store’s exterior. The store’s name of “Laidlaw’s Grocery” was eye catching in bright white paint that spanned the width of the building above the windows. An adjustable cloth awning offered a sense of class as well as shading the windows from the bright sunshine.
The Laidlaws were well aware of the importance of marketing their store. Starting in 1909 the store regularly placed display ads in the Pincher Creek Echo. Usually these were placed in the right or left hand columns in the paper’s first page. This strategy worked well during the 1910s and 1920s, as many other district businesses also placed their advertizements and notices there. This ensured that the reading public had access to the latest sales and stock information offered by their favourite businesses. By advertizing locally, Laidlaw’s Store ensured that that business was well patronized.