Van's Grocery

Through several decades, a number of different owners have operated this tiny neighborhood grocery store at 404 Lincoln Way (at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lincoln Way across from present-day Harris TV and Appliance).  The sequence of owners is Charles and Laura Parkhouse (1930s), Grover and Bessie Dost (1940s), Max and Mamie Tevebaugh and finally, Charles Orlando “Bud” and Eleanor Van Patter (ca. 1952-1957).  All owners lived in the large two-story home at 402 Lincoln Way next to the store.  A small area between the house and garage on the Washington Avenue side was fenced in so the Van Patter children could safely play along busy Lincoln Way.

Typical stock included canned goods (Campbell soups), bread (Wonder Bread – building strong bodies 8 ways), cereals (Wheaties – the breakfast of champions), fresh meat (chicken pieces and T-bone steaks), milk and ice cream, soft drinks (Coke, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper) and bottled beer (Schlitz and Bud).  Long and narrow, the store had shelves on each side at eye-height with storage below.  At the front, along the eastside, was a counter with cash register, followed by a Coca-Cola cooler for soda pop.  A separate cooler in back held bottled beer.  Popsicles, Twinkies and open glass jars of candy were magnets for children.


Typical of many small neighborhood “mom and pop” stores, a limited selection of basic necessities was offered to the neighborhood by friendly owners who provided personalized service.  Normal open hours were Monday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday mornings.  However, if a customer called on Christmas Day and desperately needed an item, Bud and Eleanor would gladly accommodate the request.  The two oldest Van Patter children, Charles D. and Pamela, recall that wholesale foods were picked up weekly by Bud driving the green, 1952 Town & Country Chrysler station wagon to Des Moines.  The parents and older children shared duties running the store: Eleanor or Pam typically on cash register up front, Bud cutting meat with cleaver and hacksaw at the six-foot, glass-front case in back, and Charles restocking shelves.  Occasionally, one part-time person was employed during weekdays.  Gary Miller, Eleanor’s brother, made the neon sign hung on the front of the building and painted “Van’s Grocery” on the east and west sides.

The house and store were always a hive of activity with friends and neighbors dropping in.  During summer vacation, “Toche” Terrones might roar by in his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and give rides to kids.  Pam remembers Friday and Saturday evenings after closing when neighbors were treated to free country and western music performed by friends on the front porch of their house.  The ensemble consisted of two vocalists/steel guitarists and a drummer.  The sound carried well beyond the gathering sitting on the edge of the porch or on the grass.


The business finally closed in 1957, and the house and store were moved off the lot to make space for a Goodyear service center.  The store suffered an undeserved fate by being moved to the east edge of town on Lincoln Way near the present-day Mike Louis Auto Body shop where the wood-frame building was left to decay among the weeds.  Although surviving artifacts from the business are few (a matchbook cover and extension grasper for merchandise on high shelving), fond memories are still triggered by long-time residents when the name “Van’s” is mentioned.

Learn about other 1950s neighborhood grocery stores.  Malander's Ninth Street Grocery - Whetstone's Food Store - Bob Sucher's Superette

I enjoyed the website story about Van's Grocery.  Grover and Bessie Dost were running it in February 1949, but that is all I know about their tenure there.  My great-grandfather Lemuel White (father of Bessie Dost and my grandmother, Bertha Beal) died in the house there on February 1, 1949.  That was the day after my 12th Birthday.  I remember coming to Ames from Maxwell to bring my grandmother to be with her sister that night.  -- Wayne Beal

Didn't know it had an actual name.  Spent lots of time there buying penny candy and 12 oz.. glass bottle pepsi's (way better in glass) out of the Coke water cooler by the front entrance.  Owners would yell at ya for holding the lid open too long.  Had a towell attached for drying the bottle.  Owners' daughter was in my class, towered over me.  I was always the smallest.  -- Steve Macdonald