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Bea Bowlsby: The grand lady of downtown

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POSTED January 4, 2018 1:38 a.m.

Editor’s note: An occasional series on the people who have helped build Manteca as the city gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of incorporation this year.

Bea Bowlsby is a downtown Manteca merchant who has prevailed through economic downturns, the opening of Walmart and other big box competitors as well as the rise of online commerce.
She can also brag that her store — Tipton’s Stationary & Gifts— has been part of Manteca’s community fabric for more than half of the 100 years Manteca has existed as an incorporated city.
Nearly every downtown storefront was filled when she and her husband Tip bought the building at the northeast corner of Yosemite and Maple avenues.
Bea was born on River Road in Ripon, the third of three girls. Bea said she came along as a surprise to her parents who thought they were through with their family already having daughters Christina, 15, and Gertrude 13 – both of whom have passed away.
Her parents Arie and Annie Van den Akker sent her to the Four Tree School in Escalon until she reached the fifth grade and the family moved to Hanford into another Dutch colony. She graduated from Hanford High School in 1954 with more than 100 in her class.
It was during her senior year she got a taste for hard work by earning her spending money as part of optometrist Dr. Duffy Burlington’s staff in Hanford.  Following graduation from high school she was hired by Bank of America working a sorting machine and proofing checks. She advanced to bookkeeper and teller and eventually went to work at a Bank of America branch in Stockton.
She met Tip Bowlsby while his parents owned the Scoop News Stand and sandwich counter in downtown Manteca. They were married in 1956.  Bowlsby worked as an assistant manager for Thrifty Drug in Hanford until he was transferred to Porterville.
In October of 1961 they moved to Manteca and rented the building that is now the home of Tipton’s Stationery from the Franzia Brothers Winery. They later purchased the two-story structure that had a bar on the west side of the building.  A portion of the rear of the store was rented to Merv and Dorothy Comstock for their shoe store – one of three shoe stores in the downtown.
“When we bought the store, Brenda (her daughter) was only a year old but I had to work at the Charter Hunter Branch of the Bank of America to help get us started,” she said.  “Another gal and I used to drive to Stockton together every day working there another year until David was born.”
She said she stayed home with the kids while they were little.  When they were older they would come home from school and do their homework at the store.
A longtime member of the Manteca Soroptimist Club, she served as its president in the 1983-1984 year and is still a member today. The project the year she served as president centered on buying a breathing apparatus for the fire department.
She said one of her fondest business memories was when the Manteca Bulletin would have its “Balloon Days” sales over three days when customers would get to pop a balloon to see the amount of discount coupon that would  fly out showing how much they would receive off their bill. The amounts ranged anywhere from five to 50 percent.  Then, on Saturday night, the newspaper would host a cocktail party in their offices on East Yosemite Avenue for the participating merchants.
Daughter Brenda Franklin works with her mother in partnership at the store while son David is an X-ray tech and manages the X-ray department at a Tracy hospital.  It was in 1992 that Bea and Tip parted company. He moved to Oakdale where he started his own business.
“We have had a great number of faithful families who have been our customers for years and years along with many newcomers including the Del Webb customers who have been very nice to us,” Bea said.
Bea said it is a joy to reminisce about what she loved about the downtown years ago and the friendships she developed down the block and around the corner including Chuck and Mary Porterfield at Porterfield’s Jewelers on Maple Avenue and Evelyn Allen with her Allen’s Jewelry in the 100 block of West Yosemite near Main Street.   
“We had quite a booming downtown,” she said.
Others that filled out the community of merchants included John and Eileen Mendosa of Mendosa’s Men’s Wear located just next door, Kathryn and George Lauriston with their Manteca Variety across from the El Rey Theater in the 100 block of East Yosemite Avenue where George and Chris Peters did their best to entertain Manteca residents with the best movies they could find. The Peters  would provide popcorn at curbside for expectant mothers who were having morning sickness in the evening hours.  Turner Hardware served the community well years before the big box stores arrived in town from its location on the north side of Yosemite Avenue.
Across the street from their stationery store was the San Joaquin First Federal Savings and Loan with manager Ron Novascek and later Mary Lou Kirk who patronized their shop.  There was Esther Thoma and Walter Burkett who both managed the Central Valley Bank on the opposite corner who she remembers always had a warm smile in their thoughtful greetings. 
Among her business friends were also Mary Albertson from Congressman John McFall’s office on Grant Street and Lena Kapka who wrote for the Manteca Bulletin and the Modesto Bee  covering school board meetings. 
There were also three drug stores in her block: Cliff Parr’s Drug Store at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street, Honodel’s Drug Store operated by Ray and Helen Honodel and the Manteca Drug Store, operated Ted Poulos, purchased from Les Wilson.
Most of those merchants’ wives belonged to the Manteca Soroptimist Club with Bea including Betty Bergthold – who with her husband Charles operated Bergthold Mortuary and housed the Manteca Volunteer Ambulance. Charles Bergthold was its first responding ambulance driver who would pick up his partner from his home on the way to a call. 
There was Pat Johnson who with her husband Dale operated Johnson Studio and Camera Shop also in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue.  Dale said he had gotten too busy with his portrait business to continue selling cameras, so Bea and Tip bought that part of his business and put it in the east side of their store, selling cameras and supplies for years to come.
Emory Sickler had his life insurance office in small quarters across Maple Avenue from their store and Jo and Richard Rusevich operated Richard’s Shoes in the 200 block of West Yosemite with the Manteca Department Store just across the street managed by Jimmy Mah. Floyd Lee welcomed Mantecans into his Toggery clothing store on the corner of Yosemite and Maple avenues with gracious attentiveness, she recalled.
Wan Jee and his wife Concha operated a children’s Juvenile Shop across Yosemite Avenue as well.  Jo and Selma Munoz had Joe’s Electric and a women’s specialty shop on the south side of the street. Peggy’s dress shop was in the northeast corner of the downtown intersection next to Wrigglesworth’s Man’s Shop owned by Gus and Selma Wrigglesworth.
Henry and Bruna Loumena operated the Domestic Laundry in the adjacent 100 block of North Maple Avenue just north of the alley with Loumena becoming the business manager of the Manteca Bulletin. Bulletin publisher George Murphy later became a field representative for Congressman John McFall.
The other downtown stores of days gone by Bea recalls include Mabel and Aldo Brocchini of Hardware Mart, Suzie Beeler who ran the Cotton Shop on Maple Avenue created by Ken Hafer, Jack Lamar of Redi-Mark, Jerry Gibson of Gibson Stationery and Monty Honey of Honey’s Home Appliance both in the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue.
Furniture store owner Ken Hafer saw that the Cotton Shop ad in the local paper would be well read announcing its opening by using some 4,000 cotton balls that his staff glued on the upper corner of the second section of the paper – one at a time. They drew attention to his inside advertising message once the papers were delivered to area homes.
 Bea continues to work at least 40 hours a week at the stationery and gift shop.  She once traveled regularly to gift shows in San Francisco but now leaves that up to her daughter Brenda who attends similar shows in Las Vegas twice a year.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email gkahl@mantecabulletin.com. 

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