THE STORY of “HERBIE'S” in PETTY HARBOUR MADOX COVE
by Phyllis E. Weir
In the Spring of 1951 Marguerite and Herbie Weir opened Weir’s General Store, a grocery store in Petty Harbour Maddox Cove, Newfoundland. The first shop was known locally as “Herbie’s"and was located at the back of the dark coloured house in the photo below.
This double salt box house was built in the mid 1850's by Marguerite's Great-Grandfather John Whitten. The image below is the bill of sale for John Whitten's purchase of “that piece of ground situated in front of Mr. Bishop’s dwelling house and commonly known as The Stand for 10 pounds and 10 shillings on 29th. October 1853.”
Ownership of the house and land eventually passed to Marguerite's Grandfather John Robert Whitten, son of John Whitten and then to Cecil Whitten, Marguerite's father. Cecil and Phoebe Whitten raised their nine children, including Marguerite the second eldest child, in the right hand side of the double salt box house. When Marguerite and Herbie Weir married in 1951 they purchased the house to use as their home and to open a small grocery store. Space was limited and Marguerite's mother, who had "a way with words" said "Marguerite and Herbie are making their living in our back porch".
Herbie, the eldest son of Harold and Jessie Weir had some experience with the wholesale and retail business. Herbie had been a driver with Barrett's Wholesale in St. John's and had delivered merchandise to shops on the Southern Shore. Also his mother Jessie Weir had operated a small shop when Herbie was a boy. Marguerite had graduated in 1948 from Littledale College In St. John's with grade 11 commercial. She had worked with Canada Public Works in Lester's Field and also in the offices of Bowring Brothers on Water Street, St. John's prior to becoming a grocer.
Weir’s General Store was initially located near “The Stand” the space where the men of the community gathered to smoke their pipes and discuss the day’s catch. From 1951 through 1955 “Herbie's” was located in the green saltbox house at the background of the image below. The old salt box remained standing until July 2019.
Photo Credit: K. Bruce Lane
In November 1955, Marguerite and Herbie expanded their business and moved Weir’s General Store and their home to a structure that had been built in 1933 as a grocery store with a home attached. It is the brown building on the left in the photo above. The builders John Pynn and his son Augustus (Gus) Pynn were Herbie’s cousins. Gus Pynn had operated his grocery store at this location from 1933 to 1955. The hardwood used in the building had been cut at Pynn’s Sawmill, then situated on the Petty Harbour River.
Weir’s General Store offered the people of Petty Harbour and Maddox Cove a greater variety of merchandise within their own community. In addition to groceries; housewares, hardware supplies, fishing supplies and a trucking service were now available. Herbie trucked salt cod, cod tongues and cod liver oil to the fish processing plants in St. John's. From St. John's, Herbie trucked general supplies as well as salt to cure the fish and coal to use as fuel to heat the homes of Petty Harbour and Maddox Cove. The receipt below issued to H. J. Weir and dated September 11, 1963 is 1/2 ton of coal at the cost of $14.60.
Herbie also made special deliveries transporting large furniture and household appliances. On occasion Herbie made an emergency trip to a St. John's hospital because our town did not have a local ambulance. The most joyous of these trips was driving expectant mothers to the delivery room.
Weir’s General Store had a special relationship with the fishermen of Petty Harbour Maddox Cove and their families. A credit system was used whereby customers could get groceries and other provisions on credit and settle their accounts at a later date, usually late in the Fall, after the Summer's catch of fish had been sold. The groceries purchased were recorded in a receipt book similar to those pictured below. The receipt book on the left "Short Now & Then" was used when someone was paying with cash but didn't have quite enough cash to pay the total amount. The receipt dated 1957 lists bread at .24 cents and cabbage at .25 cents.
The receipts below indicate the price of a loaf of bread had increased to .27 cents in 1965 and .28 cents in 1967.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s customers ordered provisions in bulk,especially for the Winter months. Sacks of potatoes, 50 pound bags of flour and cases of butter were kept in the basement cellar at “Herbie’s” until needed by the family. It was not uncommon for a child on the other side of the counter to say “Mom would like enough potatoes for supper.” The receipt below on the right, dated June 22, 1968 was written by Marguerite Weir for her mother Mrs. Cecil (Phoebe) Whitten. The receipt below on the left, dated July 2, 1973 was written by Herbert Weir for one box of Good Luck Butter at a cost of $9.00.
Saturday was “grocery order day” at Weir's General Store. In the early years customers hand delivered their weekly grocery order. As home telephones became more widely used, customers called in their orders and someone at “Herbie’s” handwrote the grocery lists. The requested groceries were then packed into cardboard boxes and delivered to the customers on Saturday evening. Herbie's nephew equates this to Herbie having introduced ‘online shopping’ to Petty Harbour Maddox Cove. My sisters and I thoroughly enjoyed delivering the groceries with Dad. He and Mom always made certain there were some lightweight boxes that we could carry into the customers' homes. As instructed by Dad, we would knock, then open the door and yell "groceries" before entering the house. In the 1960's photo below Herbie and his daughters Phyllis and Karen are standing beside one of the trucks used for deliveries.The second photo is Herbie with his youngest daughter Sheri at Weir’s General Store in the mid 1970’s.
Several of Herbie’s and Marguerite’s younger siblings, as well as their three daughters and many people from the local community were employed at Herbie's over the years. In the photo below Marguerite is shown with daughters Phyllis Weir and Karen (Weir) Donovan, and employees Catherine (Weir) Spitzig and Allan Weir, both of whom worked at Weir's General Store in the 1960's.
Herbie and Marguerite worked side-by-side in Weir’s General Store every day for 43 years. They enjoyed being grocers and having a close connection with the people of Petty Harbour Maddox Cove. "Herbie's" was a meeting place for the local people. Most of the community news and a little gossip were exchanged over the counter. Herbie, an avid storyteller, enjoyed sharing stories with the customers. The next image, depicts Herbie having a ‘yarn’ or chat, while Karen, Herbie’s daughter, is handwriting a customer’s grocery order.
Credit: Joe Carter linocut, 1979
After Dad’s death in March 1994 Mom continued to operate “Herbie’s". In 2003 the Town of Petty Harbour Maddox Cove presented Marguerite with an award recognizing Weir’s General Store’s outstanding business services to the community. When presenting the plaque then Major Nat Hutchings said: “For more than 50 years Weir’s General Store has provided a service to the people of our town and also employed many local people. It was a true outport general store where customers bought groceries and dry goods and fisherman obtained their supplies for the season.“Herbie’s” opened at 9:30 a.m. from Monday to Saturday but never had a fixed closing time. The lights may be on until 11:00 p.m. or midnight depending on customers' needs. Herbie and Marguerite and Weir’s General Store are an integral part of our community heritage."
In 2001 and at age 72, Marguerite became the smiling face of Herbie’s Olde Craft Shoppe. This name was suggested by Herbie’s Grandson and is very appropriate because we are located in the same building into which "Herbie's" moved in 1955. The authenticity of Weir's General Store remains, only the merchandise has changed. Gone are the beans, sugar, flour and fishing lines which once filled the shelves and the storage bins of Weir’s General Store. Today, the same shelves are filled with quality woollens, jewellery and more, all made by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Marguerite enjoyed meeting and sharing her love and knowledge of Petty Harbour Maddox Cove with all who visited Herbie’s Olde Craft Shoppe. In 2006 she received the Silver Puffin Award from Destination St. John’s for excellence in tourism services. Marguerite is pictured below with the Honourable Loyola Hearn on the receipt of her award. Marguerite continued to happily greet and serve visitors at Herbie’s Olde Craft Shoppe well into her mid eighties. Until her passing in May 2019, Mom cherished the memories of her days at “Herbie’s”.
Today, Herbie’s and Marguerite’s daughter Phyllis Weir and family friend Rhodie Anne Woodland operate Herbie’s Olde Craft Shoppe. Our vision for “Herbie’s” is to preserve the history and culture of our town’s old General Store and to provide a heritage space for Newfoundland and Labrador artisans and crafters to display quality artwork made in Newfoundland and Labrador. On the basis of what you read and see, we hope you agree that we are achieving our goal.
Rhodie Anne Woodland, Marguerite Weir and Phyllis Weir, “Christmas at Herbie’s”, 2016
2020 marks the beginning of the 70th year of “Herbie’s” in Petty Harbour Maddox Cove. To celebrate this significant milestone we proudly launch HerbiesOnline.Com and dedicate it to our co-founders Herbert J. Weir (1923-1994) and Marguerite (Whitten) Weir (1929 - 2019).
Marguerite Weir at Herbie’s Olde Craft Shoppe, 2006
Herbert J. Weir (Herbie) at Weir’s General Store, 1980
~STEP BACK IN TIME ~
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