Back in 1938 when Manteca Variety opened on East Yosemite Avenue you could buy just about anything a shopper could hope to find in such a store from nuts and bolts and spools of thread to sporting goods as well as hunting and fishing licenses.
The daughters of Manteca Variety Store owners George and Kathryn Lauritson – Nadean Lauritson Costa and Bonnie Galas – recalled the fun times they hard growing up and helping in the store.
It was a time when the city had less than 2,000 residents. There was a 9 p.m. curfew with the city’s fire siren going off to remind kids it was time to get on their way home.
“We had everything, including fishing supplies, with people coming from miles away to shop,” Nadean Lauritson Costa remembered.
Nadean and Bonnie recalled a birthday party for Chip Henry at the two-story Dr. Lloyd Henry home in the 300 block of Yosemite Avenue (next door today to the uniform shop) that was hosted by his mother Winnie. It was where they successfully slid down the angled banister from the home’s upper floor. Chip Henry – later to become a dentist like his father – played with Nadean and Bonnie at the celebration along with Bill Cottrell who fell in the fish pond getting his new sailor’s suit soaked.
The Henry’s family dental office was on Sycamore Avenue across from the brick Manteca City Hall that was built in 1924 housing all the city departments including the police and fire departments and still had space to rent. It also housed the post office.
George was born in Santa Margarita near Atascadero in February of 1912. He came to Manteca at the age of 8 in 1920 – two years after the city was incorporated with his parents Charles and Lavinia.
They built Lauritson’s General Store on the corner of Lincoln and Yosemite avenues where they stocked bags of potatoes and flour and other basic necessities. Years later it became the City Cash Market.
Kathryn was born at her family’s home on Graves Avenue near Austin Road.
George had gone to Manteca High School and Kathryn attended Ripon High School where she graduated. Manteca teens in that era enjoyed milk shakes and Cokes at the Scoop Newsstand and at the Manteca Creamery three blocks away where Yosemite Avenue crosses the railroad tracks.
Daughter Bonnie Galas, now of Modesto, said her parents built the variety store on Yosemite Avenue in 1938 and opened it in March of 1939, just west of Grant Street, on her birthday when she was 4 years old. She remembered their parents never had a phone in the 30- by 60-foot foot store with a back storeroom that measured 30- by-40 feet that was built and included a private office complete with a shelf for their father’s collection of jokes.
“I remember Police Chief Tom Brockman and George Hoegreff walking into Dad’s office,” Nadean recalled.
Hoegreff would later become a mailman with the downtown mail route. George had also been a member of the Manteca Volunteer Fire Department who, like other shop keepers, would run to the fire station at the sound of the city-wide fire sirens and man the fire trucks.
She said her dad Dad feared if he had a phone customers would be calling him to bring a spool of thread or something as insignificant home to them after his closing the store. Without a phone, that couldn’t be a problem he had mused, something the girls could not imagine happening today.
Manteca Variety was a source of candy for children and their parents waiting to see a show at the El Rey Theater across the street. Nadean said parents could get a whole bag at their 5 & 10 for the same price a candy bar would cost at the show. Youngsters in the community had learned to pull their parents into the store’s front door to get Kathryn’s happy greeting and a free piece of candy out of the glass containers on the counter facing the street.
Nadean and Bonnie said they both were part of taking inventory every year where the store was closed for the day while sitting on ammunition crates counting every shoe lace, and every nut and bolt in the store along with the baseballs, bats and other items specifically for the sports teams in Manteca.
The Lauritsons lived on South Lincoln Avenue between Yosemite Avenue and Moffat Boulevard among a warm and loving group of neighbors who had strong ties to Manteca. There was Evelyn and Bill Johnson, Ed Perry and his wife Margarete of Perry’s Garage on Moffat, the Dietsel Family, the Ed DeMoluns, Tony Escobar, Ross Salmon, grandson of a founder of Manteca; John and Babe Gatto, longtime manager of Bank of America; Ena Plank and Bill Perry and his brother among others. Mayor Ed Pitts would later join the neighborhood group.
They would go out for a chicken dinner as a family at the Little Club in the 100 block of South Main Street when they could afford a night out. Grandfather Chet Williams – Kathryn’s dad – called the square dances in Ripon and worked as an irrigation district ditch tender.
Lauritson was a Mason and a Shriner attending in Sacramento as well as a patron of Eastern Star as was Kathryn.
“Bonnie and I were raised at the store, doing our homework there after school,” Nadean said. “Saturday afternoons were special because we would go across the street and watch a cowboy movie at the theater.”
With a business to run, George didn’t go into the military during World War II but instead worked at Sharpe General Depot in Lathrop five days a week to support the war effort. Neither George or Kathryn was involved in any service club because “they were too busy” their daughters remembered. Kathryn would later become a faithful member of the Manteca Soroptimist Club.
With the advent of the Manteca District Volunteer Ambulance Service at $5 for the first ride, George became a devoted ambulance driver and attendant. It was in March of 1968 after he had driven two fatal accident ambulance runs – one to Tracy and the other in Ripon in the rain – that he went down to his knees at the Ripon crash when bringing a victim up a highway slope, apparently having the first signs of a heart attack. When the crew returned and they were cleaning the vehicle, George suffered a more severe attack that took his life after doctors worked on him for over an hour, his daughters said.
Nadean worked in the store with her mother after her Dad’s unexpected death.
Kathryn closed the store in 1976, some eight years after her husband’s death. A’s baseball player Joe Rudy would rent the store selling his memorabilia. Later Darrel Cabral would take over the store to open another sports related business at the Yosemite Avenue variety store site.
Kathryn passed away some 17 years ago in August of 2001 in a traffic accident in the foothills.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.