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Surprisingly the shopping opportunities in Simsbury have historically been very diverse. In the 1700s you could find general merchandise shops throughout the town that sold up to twenty-one different types of fabrics as well as crockery, wines, rum, tea, pepper, spices, drugs and medicines. You could pay in cash or grain, beeswax, tallow, cotton, linen rags, white pine boards and shingles. Whether you lived in West Simsbury, Weatogue, Tariffville or Simsbury the shopping was there. In 1791, Ebenezer S. Gleason advertised in the Connecticut Courant “a general assortment of India and European goods; which were purchased with cash and will be sold for cash as cheap as any store in America” at his store “near Messrs. Mills and Case taverns in West Simsbury.”
For those who wished a wider selection there was Hartford to draw from where several Simsbury residents owned general stores. Thomas Belden, a Simsbury distiller, had a store near the ferry to East Hartford. There he sold such exotic goods as French Brandy, Holland Gin, Virginia Hand Tobacco and Suchong and Bohea Teas. Merchants like Amos Eno and many of the Phelps family got their start in the mercantile establishments of Hartford. For those unable to reach Hartford there were peddlers who traveled the back road settlements and brought their goods in wagons and were willing to take special orders.
The coming of the Farmington Canal, an inland waterway that ran through Simsbury from 1828-1849, brought goods regularly along its route from New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts. With the advent of rail transportation in 1849, local stores were able to further broaden their inventories. The railroad express offices were the depots for purchases ordered from catalogues such as Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. They were also where the hearse from Weed’s Blacksmith Shop met the coffins for burial in Simsbury that arrived on the incoming trains.
The Farmington Valley Directory for 1917-1918 provides us with a glimpse of retail life in Simsbury over eighty-years ago. Shopping centers were yet to come but stores were often found in “blocks”, a building containing multiple shops.
In East Weatogue, J.C.E. Humphrey & Co was a butcher shop. Louis Case, who worked as a meat cutter there, also owned a florist, which closed within the last decade.
Lucius Bigelow was listed as a tin “pedler” while Frank S. Butler ran the general store and post office near the bridge in Weatogue.
Tariffville had six grocers; George Bull, Joseph Gwiazda, Charles Nichols, William Smith who ran the Tariffville Grocery Company, John Starr and Joseph Tomolonis. Dominic Burnett sold men’s furnishings. Roman Zawispowski ran a bakery and Margaret Felix had an ice cream store,
In Simsbury center, the grocery stores were: J. H. Shea’s who sold meat and The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. The Holcomb block had Quinn’s Variety Store; Arthur Lathrop ran a drug store; William O’Connor had a drugstore along with a general store,; Ruben Norwitz and John Varjensky also ran general stores; Samuel T. Welden was a Florist and Seedman also selling hardware, sporting goods, bicycles and motorcycles. Hall Bros. sold electrical and lighting supplies, Andrew Roth sold and repaired shoes in the Welden Block. Charles Marmot ran a second shoe repair. Many of these stores were located near the railroad depot on the bustling streets of Railroad, Wilcox and Welden.
Serving the Ensign-Bickford workers who lived near the factory on South Main Street were Thomas Kozlowsky who ran a grocery store and Frank Zablocki who had a dry goods store.
In West Simsbury, Leon Rowley had a general store, Louis Barbieri ran a fruit and candy store and Mrs. Joan Toletti was a grocer.
In addition to these choices there were lumber, grain and feed mills, farm produce stands, a steam laundry, poultry dealers, dairies, and garages. Although many of the buildings that held these commercial institutions still exist, they now house non-retail businesses. Shopping malls that began to sprout after World War II lured shoppers away from in-town shopping. Many Simsbury residents remember these earlier stores and speak of them and their service fondly. Today the retail areas of Simsbury are blossoming again with restaurants, specialty shops, jewelers, grocery stores, hardware stores, garden centers and retail farm outlets offering products from vegetables to ice cream to wine.