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Grocery Stores in Old Town Tacoma

Written in 2019 by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

Tacoma's First Main Street

Tacoma's first main street extended east from Job Carr's cabin along what we now call North 30th Street. Originally known as Second Street, this busy thoroughfare has seen many local grocery stores come and go in the last 150 years. The first newspaper published in Tacoma in August 1873 included advertisements for four grocery stores and markets.

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The Hanson & Ackerson Lumbermill also operated a general store. The merchandise included groceries.

This advertisement appeared in the Daily Pacific Tribune on 8/9/1873.

The Zelinsky Brothers

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The Old Towne Apartments at 2120 N 30th St was formerly the site of the Zelinsky Grocery Stores.

Two buildings used to stand on the site now occupied by the Old Towne Apartments. They were owned by the Zelinskys, two Jewish brothers who were an integral part of the Old Town community. Amil and Sol Zelinsky arrived in Tacoma in the 1880s and started in the grocery business with a store on Old Town Dock. They moved to N 30th Street about 1895 and operated separate grocery stores side-by-side. In 1916, Amil purchased Sol's property and replaced the original wooden structures with the brick building we see today. In the 1920s, Amil closed the store and sold his inventory to Srecko Bilanko. Included in the sale was a very impressive cash register.

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The cash register from Mt Tacoma Grocery is on display at Tacoma Historical Society.

Photo credit: Tacoma Historical Society

A Gathering Place for Croatian Immigrants

Srecko Bilanko arrived in Tacoma in 1910. His first job was at the California Oyster House owned by John Barcott Sr., another Croatian immigrant. By 1916, Srecko was a partner in a grocery in Old Town. In 1919, he established the Mount Tacoma Grocery and Meat Market at 2208 N 30th Street. This business became known as "the fisherman's grocery store." Commercial fishing boats were stocked from this grocery before they left port to fish in the San Juans or Alaska.

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Srecko Bilanko worked with the Barcott family at the California Oyster House in Downtown Tacoma before operating his own grocery story in Old Town Tacoma.

Just down the street from Slavonian Hall, Bilanko's was a gathering place for Old Town Croatians. It was common for local men to spend time there, swapping stories in Croatian. Anyone in the community could purchase their needs from Bilanko's on credit. They kept records for each family in pigeon-holes behind the counter. Often, the families of local fishermen would not have any spending-cash while the husband was away, but Bilanko's knew they would get paid at the end of the season. Bilanko's also served as a quasi-bank, adding any cash paid out to the credit bill.

In the 1950s the store was expanded next door as a self service grocery. After World War II, Srecko's sons, Phil and Mitch, ran the store. Phil was the grocer and Mitch was the butcher until their retirement in 1978.

More Grocery Stores in Old Town Tacoma

Commencement Grocery Store, operated by the Johnstone Brothers, was the first business to apply for an advertisement in the Daily Pacific Tribune in 1873.

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This advertisement for Commencement Grocery appeared in the Daily Pacific Tribune on 8/9/1873.

John Dooley and J.W. Chambers operated the Tacoma Market on McCarver Street near Second (now N 30th Street). Mr. Chambers also served on the first Tacoma City Council with Job Carr in 1874.

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The Tacoma Market is one of four Old Town Tacoma grocery stores that advertised in the Daily Pacific Tribune on 8/9/1873.

In the 1870s, the general store owned by Hosford & Orchard was just around the corner from the Tacoma Market.

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The Hosford & Orchard general store advertised in the Daily Pacific Tribune on 8/9/1873.

In 1892, Allen C Mason constructed a three-story brick building known as the Pioneer Block at 2214 N 30th Street. One of the first tenants was the Robert S. Bennatt Grocery. Croatian immigrants, Joseph and Perina Ursich operated the Old Town Grocery at this location in 1910. The building was razed in the 1930s; it is now the location of the Tacoma Public Utilities Old Town Substation.

Next door at 2224 N 30th St, the Rabasa brothers, immigrants from Russia, owned a grocery and butcher shop.

In the 20th century, Norwegian immigrants, Iver and Emelie Belsvig acquired the building at 2110 N 30th St. In 1910, they opened Belsvig Grocery at this location.

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The Viking Apartments at 2110 N 30th St was formerly the site of the Belsvig Grocery.

Carr's Hall, now a law office, at 2301 N 30th St., has had many different uses since it was built in 1888. In addition to serving as a Knight of Pythias Temple, Sunday school, and Grazie's Restaurant, the building has been home to two different grocery stores. Anton Bush and Dominic Constanti each operated a grocery story in this building in the early 20th century. Dominic also owned a saloon at the corner of McCarver and N 30th Street until Prohibition (1920-1933).

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Carr's Hall was home to two different grocery stores in the early 20th century.

Another family of Croatian immigrants operated the Ursich Meat Market and grocery store at 2408 N 30th Street in the early 1900s. It was owned by George and Peter Ursich.

Read more about memories of Mt Tacoma Grocery & Meats on the Eureka! History Blog.


Daily Pacific Tribune, Aug. 9, 1873

Images of America: Old Town Tacoma by Caroline Gallacci and the Tacoma Historical Society

Joe Bilanko, Old Town Resident

Mary Bowlby, Job Carr Cabin Museum ~ Retired

About the Author

Holly Stewart joined the team at the Job Carr Cabin Museum in 2013. She oversees the Museum's programs related to education, volunteer resources, community outreach, and public events. In addition to her work with JCCM, she serves on the board of the Heritage League of Pierce County and Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission.