East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

Foss “Royal Blue” Grocery Store Remembered

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on May 10, 2011

Judith (Foss) Porter and Ann Waidelich wrote the following on the history of the Foss “Royal Blue” Grocery at 2001 Atwood Avenue after our April 2011 meeting on that topic.

“Thank you so much for allowing my brother (Marvin Foss) and me (Judith Foss Porter) to present a program on the Foss Royal Blue Grocery Store.  It was such a privilege to honor my Mother and Father in such a terrific way.  It has always been special to be caretaker of our family history but to share it with others who knew our family was so overwhelmingly great – again, thank you.”  from a note received from Judith Foss Porter after the April 16th East Side History Club meeting.

Marvin Foss and Judith (Foss) Porter as children

Peder Foss and Anna Forton were married in Stoughton on Feb. 5, 1886.  They both had emigrated from Norway.  They farmed in several areas around Madison and had 12 children.  The youngest was Arnold, born Feb. 27, 1911.  His mother died that day and he was baptized beside her casket.  Arnold was raised by his only living sister Christina who was 22 years older than him.  She and her husband Christian Arneson served as grandparents to Arnold’s children.

Arnold attended high school in DeForest but didn’t graduate due to illness and the need to earn money to cover medical bills.  Then the Depression hit.  He married Sylvia Gest in May 1936, eloping to Rockford Illinois and honeymooning at Halverson’s near Stoughton on the way back.  Her aunt & uncle, LaRoy & Alma Gest, owned the Gest Garage, Inn and Cabins on Hwy 51 and Co. Hwy. K.  Arnold worked for A.J. Sweet, a wholesale fruit and produce company, driving a delivery truck.  In the summer of 1936 they lived in Washington DC while Arnold worked for the US Dept. of Loans and Currency !  When they came back Arnold returned to his job at A.J. Sweet and they took up residence at 226 Buell Street.  They lived there until the summer of 1950 when they moved, with their four children (Robert, Judith, Marvin and David) to 501 Pflaum Road, where they had a 27 acre farm that supplied many of the berries and vegetables that were sold at the Foss store.

In the mean time his brother Bennie had been the manager at Kroger’s Grocery Store, 2001 Atwood Ave. In 1936 he and Louis Pfister, who owned the building, took over the store and renamed it Foss & Pfister.   In June of 1937 Arnold borrowed money and bought half interest in the store which then became Foss Brothers Grocery.  In 1942 Arnold and his wife, who also worked in the store, bought out Bennie’s share so that he could run a berry and poultry farm in Monona which he has purchased from William Schultz.  In 1947 they bought out Harry Hall’s Grocer, 1961 Winnebago St.,  and combined the two.  In October of 1947 Bennie, again, became a partner until he retired in 1960.  He continued to work part-time until he died in February 1968.

The building, that the store occupied, had been owned by Louis Pfister and then by Ted Fields, who had a law office upstairs.  In 1960 Arnold & Sylvia bought the building.  They closed the grocery store in 1970 and rented the space to other businesses.  “Our health forced us to give it up.  There was a lot of hard work in those 33 years but I think it was good for us.  Like most people we did not have everything we wanted, but we did have everything we needed.”  so wrote Arnold Foss.  Arnold died in 1986.

Arnold Foss with customer Iver Kalbakken shortly before the Foss “Royal Blue” Grocery closed in August 1970.

Judith and Marvin shared the following memories of working in their parent’s store:

  • A spilled wagon of groceries on the railroad tracks that Robert, with sister Judith as helper, were delivering to Mrs. Blick, near the Yahara River.
  • Edith & Earl Hoppmann delivered their crates of eggs that we transferred to cartons – not always so carefully – yuk!
  • Lots of Norwegian being spoken in the store.  Lutefisk in November and inexpensive toys available for last minute shoppers in December.
  • Mom sending us down the back street (Helena) to Schoep’s for more ice cream.
  • Making huge pan after pan of potato salad to sell at the store in the summer – peeling & peeling
  • Selling illegal colored Oleo from Rockford – wrapped in meat paper in 4# packages.
  • Always losing our Thanksgiving turkey to a customer who forgot to order one — we got capons instead 😦
  • The smell of the sweeping compound used every night to sweep the wooden floors and the hot wet feathers from the chicken plucker.
  • New Year’s Eve inventory where everybody in the family 10 years old and older helped.  David, our youngest brother, was so excited to finally make it to 10 years in 1959 and discover how boring it was.
  • The store truck went to the dump regularly.  The floorboards were so worn that we had to put our feet in a cardboard box on the passenger side.

Arnold Foss

Silvia (Gest) Foss inside the Foss Royal Grocery

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One Response to “Foss “Royal Blue” Grocery Store Remembered”

  1. john said

    Found a receipt from Royal Blue store from 1932, if you would like to have it let me know I will mail it to you

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