Fred Schwantz: Beale Street Grocer "With a Full Line of Fine Liquors"

photo by April Ford Beasley

Knowing my taste for Kentucky Nip and other tasty drinks, my pal Laura Summerford sent me this colorful photo of an old whiskey jug and asked what I could tell her about it. Well, here you go.

The label printed on the jug gives us a start: It was obviously sold by a fellow by the name of Frederick Schwantz, who considered himself an "up-to-date" grocer "with a full line of Fine Liquors." As you can see, his grocery and liquor store was located at 63 Beale, which would have placed it downtown, between Main and Front.

Schwantz first shows up in the old city directories in 1892, working as a young clerk for a "Mrs. Harrington" and living in a boarding house at the southwest corner of Gaines and Texas. (Isn't it amazing how much information is contained in a single line of the old city directories?)

He clerked at several other establishments over the years, and sometime around 1897, he opened his own grocery at 63 Beale, living next door at 67 Beale (probably upstairs). This would have been a prime retail location, but after 1925 or so the city directories have no listing for Schwantz (or anyone else) at this address, for a very good reason — that entire south side of Beale, between Main and Front, was razed when they built The Orpheum, which will be celebrating its 85th anniversary later this year.

Schwantz, an enterprising gentleman much like the Lauderdales, wasn't deterred by these developments. He simply moved a block to the east, opening a new establishment, the Globe Grocery Company, at 139 Beale Street. He apparently did quite well in this location, since the phone books show him living at 275 Buena Vista, a lovely street — then and now — across from Overton Park.

I could have traced the history of his grocery company over the years, but I decided to just cut to the chase. Frederick L. Schwantz, identified on his death certificate as a "retired grocer," died of a heart attack on May 21, 1943, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Thanks for sharing the really nice photo of the old jug, Laura. One minor detail about it still intrigues me. Look at the slogan on the label: Fred wanted everyone to "get my prices before buying." Not because his high prices might frighten you away, and you'd better be prepared, but because they were so low you would certainly buy from him. At least I think that's what he means.


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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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