As a kid I never really minded having to go grocery shopping with my mother. She didn’t drive so my father would have to take us. I don’t recall if he came in the store with us – I don’t think he did. We went to two places; Star Market, and then Ver Hulst Farmers’ Market. Wegmans Supermarket started in my hometown, and I went to school with one of the kids, but we never shopped there.
The more I dig into the family history the more sense I get of how loyalties in those days still were partially influenced by country of origin in an immigrant city like ours. Further, discovering that our family was in the grocery business, going back to the 1600’s Germany no less, has me looking at my mother’s store choices and relationship with the neighborhood merchants with a new sense of understanding. Her cousin, who lived across the street from us, owned the small grocery store a block away. Her grandfather was a grocer on the other side of town in the late 1800’s and is likely to have known of the Wegman’s as competitors. Star Market was the nearest alternative to Wegman’s, which itself was closer to our house.
Ver Hulst Market was always the second stop on the grocery loop. My mother bought bushels of apples and tomatoes, and all the other produce we needed for the week. We had a separate pantry off the kitchen with a “root bin”, a pull out wooden full length drawer for potatoes, onions, and other root vegetables that she would buy in bulk sacks or bushels. There were six mouths to feed. What I’d give to have that storage space now! We also got our Christmas tree there every year while I was a child.
For two hundred and fifty years my mother’s family lived in and around the city and municipality of Hulst, on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands. Her family lived in East-Flanders (Belgium) in the late 16th century and in the mid 18th century made their way north across the border into the Zeelandic Flanders region of what is now the Netherlands. HULST! They were “ver Hulst”, from Hulst.
“Four Ver Hulst brothers — Cy, John, Charles and Joseph — ran the business. Customers flocked there for decades, buying everything from tomatoes to topsoil, potatoes to peaches, corn to Christmas trees and rose bushes to beer…. The Ver Hulst family had come to America from Belgium in 1911, and patriarch Camille Ver Hulst bought his original farm on Ridge Road in 1936. Although the business became known as Ver Hulst Brothers, it was their sister, Stephany, who got things started. “Stephany sold her brothers’ produce on a stand fashioned from three orange crates, a humble beginning for a business that now includes nearly 1000 acres around Monroe County,” Grant wrote in the 1983 story.” ~ Democrat & Chronicle newspaper article Sept. 2017.
As I child I had no clue about any of this, only having discovered it recently. It continues to astonish me how much we carry in our personal stories that stretch back to our ancestors, sometimes hundreds of years ago. And most times we are unaware of these connections. Discovering them makes family research and story writing of family history so exciting and rewarding.