Above: A Brix Grocery horse and buggy at 917 West Broadway in 1898 (North Minneapolis Post via Hennepin County Library)
Among the businesses affected by the West Broadway fire last month is a particularly notable one for Minneapolis: the city's oldest grocery store.
At least Brix Meat and Grocery appears to be the oldest in the city, having operated at that location since 1893 -- a whopping 122 years. The Star Tribune checked in with Hennepin County library, the city's architectural historian and the Hennepin History Museum for a more definitive declaration, but all agreed there is no simple way of making that determination.
City records show its founder W.C. Brix actually once owned three of the four buildings most damaged by the fire: 911, 913 and 915-17 West Broadway.
The store's origins trace back to 1882, when it opened at 4th and Plymouth avenue, according to a 1950s North Minneapolis Post article dug up by Hennepin County librarians. It specialized in meats and homemade sausage in particular -- the groceries came later.
"There were holes out here in the sidewalk where we'd throw the live chickens when truckers delivered them," Richard Brix, W.C.'s grandson, told the Star Tribune in 1996. "We could keep 400 chickens down there," he said, likely referring to the basement. "We butchered on Fridays."
Above: Brix Grocery & Meat as it appears today.
The business stayed in the family for about a century: passing from W.C. to Bill to Richard, before transitioning to its current non-family owners.
"He sold quality meat to all the fine restaurants in Minneapolis, e.g., Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, Monte Carlo, The Bungalow, etc," Richard Brix's daughter, Cheri Brix, wrote in an e-mail. She said her father grew up just off Broadway on Dupont Avenue, and began working at the store when he was 15.
“I think its notable that you had this North Side investor who owned a grocery store and a meat market -- whose name continues to be associated with that institution today -- to have done this development right here so long ago, all three of these buildings," said John Smoley, the city's architectural historian.
Above: A Brix truck in 1940 (Minnesota Historical Society)
The West Broadway corridor attracted growth in the late 19th century during an era when lumber milling still dominated local industry -- a horsecar line traveled to what was then known as 20th Avenue as early as 1890.
“This area developed in the late 1880s, really in response to the progression of the lumber industry north along the west bank of the Mississippi River," Smoley said.
Today the store stands amid one of the last remaining historic stretches of West Broadway. The neighboring storefronts across the street were ripped up to create the Hawthorn Crossings strip mall in the 1990s.
"It's going to be important again," Richard Brix, who later died, said of West Broadway in that 1996 story. "With what I understand is going on, it's nothing but good ahead."
The fire miraculously left the store with largely smoke and water damage, despite decimating the apartments upstairs. “I want to rebuild like it used to be," said its longtime owner, Nader Abuammo.
Other historic groceries in Minneapolis include Northeast's Sentyrz Market, which opened in 1923, and Delmonico's, founded in 1929. Sentyrz is still family-owned, while Delmonico's only recently transitioned out of its original family, according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet.