The original Coop about 1905


Cotuit Grocery, known locally as “The Coop” goes back to 1896. That year, on the northwest corner of Oyster Place and Main Street Victor Nickerson, the plumber who popularized the successful well-bit built a three-story store. Many wells were being drilled at this time, and Mr. Nickerson sold the popular”Victor Wellpoint” that may have been invented by his Wampanoag employee Chief Little Bear.

Frederick Parker ran a grocery store in the building on the side facing School Street. He purchased the building in 1906. Mr. Parker’s sign read “Groceries//Provisions” and advertised “Old Dutch Cleanser”, “Moxie Soda” and “Dr. A.C. Daniels Veterinary Medicine”.

Of the employees at the store, there was Herbert Snow who made the rounds of the village in a horse-drawn cart, taking household and hotel orders, and delivering them in the afternoon. Eighteen-year-old Milton Crocker, his brother-in-law began work as a grocery clerk in 1912.

In December 1913, Parker leased the block of stores with the grocery at the core to the Cooperative Grocery Company, hence “The Coop”. The major investors were Benjamin Sears who ran the general store across the street, Ulysses Hull, who was the sherrif and a coal dealer, and the major local builder Howard Dottridge. Eventually, Sears and Hull sold their shares to Milton Crocker, who took over management after Parker died in 1918 in the terrible wartime flu epidemic.

Tragedy struck the building in April 1924. The jeweler, Frank Mercure, who sold watches, clocks and postcards upstairs, went out for a break and left a Bunsen burner lighted. The Cotuit Fire Department was right across the street, but the engine quickly ran out of chemical retardant, and the building burned to the ground, an estimated loss of $50,000 to $60,000.

The Coop then moved a quarter of a mile north to its present home where were two buildings built by the architect/Sheriff/moderator Charles C. Bearse around 1863. The northern one was close to the street, where Mr. Bearse sold hardware and ran the post office whose name was officially changed from Cotuit Port to plain Cotuit in 1872.

Before Mr. Bearse died in 1889 the store was taken over by retired mariner Capt. Julius Nickerson, who had married Bearse’s daughter Isabel. They lived in the house next door, jointly owned by her sister Nellie. Above the store was a millinery shop run by Emma Harlow. The store closed after Julius died in 1920, so his daughter Lulu sold it to Henry Loring, who opened the first gas station in Cotuit.

After the fire, the two remaining owners of the original Coop, Milton Crocker and Howard Dottridge’s daughter Grace rented Mr. Bearse’s store in 1924. Grace was the first college graduate in the family, taught in Rochester NY and Ayer MA, and returned to Cotuit to be the Coop owner/bookkeeper. She followed her mother as Reader of the Cotuit Christian Science Church, and became Cotuit librarian. In 1937 she and Milton were able to buy the property from Loring. Shortly after this the two old houses were merged. Milton bought her interest in the store in 1941, but she continued to work there.

Next Week: Mr. Crocker’s Coop in the late sixties.

First published in Barnstable Enterprise 9 Sept. 2011.


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