Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saranac Lake: Charlie Green’s Market

Oil painting by Nancy BrossardA man from England, who came to Saranac Lake to cure a respiratory illness in 1922, and ended up operating a grocery store for 60 years has turned out to be a well loved and fondly remembered citizen of the village – and the subject of an art exhibit!

The Adirondack Artists Guild, of which I am one of 14 members, has a gallery at 52 Main Street in Saranac Lake. It’s an old, three story building from the last century, situated between the Sears parking lot and the Waterhole. We knew all along that prior to being used as an art gallery that it had been a bike shop, maybe another short-lived business or 2, and before that a grocery store. The old striped awning on the front of the building, replaced a couple of years ago, had “Greens Market” on it in white letters. So a year ago, when we were planning our 2013 schedule, someone suggested we should do a special exhibit in honor of Charlie Green – the man who operated the grocery store. I wasn’t too excited about it. I had not lived here then – I knew nothing about the man or the store.

One of the things that makes living and working in Saranac Lake so rewarding is the fact that it’s a small, close-knit community. People talk to each other, shares thoughts and ideas. As I, and my colleagues began to plan what we were going to do for “The Market Show: The Guild Celebrates Charlie Green”, there were conversations with people who had known Charlie Green. Time spent on the Historic Saranac Lake Wiki and research with Michelle Tucker in the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library. A press release went into the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in the summer asking if people would step forward with stories and artifacts related to Charlie Green.

Photo by Nancy Boyer-RechlinI discovered there had been a four page spread about Charlie Green in the January/February 1977 issue of Adirondack Life by Saranac Lake resident Nancy Boyer-Rechlin. In June 1977 Charlie Green was recognized by the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce as “Man of the Year”.

The details of this man’s plain but remarkable life began to emerge. He had been living in New Jersey, after serving in WW I, when members of the Copestone Lodge chipped in to give him $100 to come to Saranac Lake for a month, for tuberculosis. A few months later they sent him some more money and suggested he buy some long underwear – which he did, and he ended up staying for the rest of his life.

As stories found their way to the Guild’s Facebook page, in emails, and through personal visits to the gallery, we learned that Charlie Green had been in business almost 60 years. “Charlie Green’s Foods of Quality”. The walls of the gallery had been lined with shelves, stocked to the ceiling with various goods. There was a long handled “grabber” used to reach items on the top shelves, knocking them down into waiting hands according to one of the “storytellers” who talked at the exhibit opening on January 11. It turns out that Charlie would encourage people to phone in their orders and he would fill up brown paper bags with the goods requested. He would use a dark lead pencil to write down all the prices on the outside of the bag and tally them up without the use of a calculator or adding machine. He apparently gave away as much as he sold, which was fondly remembered in a poem written and read by local poet Maurice Kenny. Local young boys were employed to deliver bags of groceries. Charlie and his wife Nita were in the store every day and generations of tabby cats, named Sammy or Pumpkin, lived in the store and monitored the mouse population. He waited on Marjorie Merriweather Post and Legs Diamond. Charlie was named a special “King of Winter Carnival” in 1978 and he was active in the Lions Club and Masonic Lodge.

It’s a wonderful thing to have been pulled into this story of the life of a man who ran a grocery store. He passed away 26 years ago, in January 1987, at the age of 92. This is a small town tale of how the acts of kindness and generosity of one person has had such an impact on generations of residents – and now even upon the members of the Artists Guild who created works of art in his honor.

The exhibit of artwork, historic photos, artifacts – like his original cash register – as well as important documents will remain on display until January 29. The Adirondack Artists Guild is open every day except Monday. Don’t miss this unique story of a special member of the community and if you can’t make it to the gallery, there is a slide show on the Guild’s web site.

Illustration above: an oil painting by Nancy Brossard; below, Charlie Green in a photo by Nancy Boyer-Rechlin.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks. Sandy’s work can be seen on her website sandrahildreth.com.

2 Responses

  1. JPH says:

    Sandy, My grandmother, who cured from TB in Saranac, stayed on to live there until her death in 1987. She did her shopping at Charlie Green’s store, and I remember going in with her in the 60’s and maybe early 70’s. She usually called in her order, then drove her white Oldsmobile sedan over to pick it up, until in later years, she had her order delivered. She tipped the delivery boys a dime……quite an embarrassment to my brothers and me.

    She complained about the prices at Charlie Green’s, but continued to shop there even after the A&P opened.

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks what a good post. From the picture it looks like Honey (maybe?) was a pretty pricey item back then.

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