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Cornelius Keith played prominent role in NEMO grocery store management

The Cornelius S. Keith grocery store, 2207 Market, Hannibal, Mo., featured a cross in its front window, made of Rupp Bakery rolls in honor of Easter. March 27, 1934 Herring photo; Allen Ballard collection


During the years between the World Wars and deep within financial chaos of the Great Depression, feeding a family was an all-consuming task. Grocery stores literally dotted every neighborhood throughout the town of Hannibal, Mo., as entrepreneurs converted their living rooms into sales floors, selling basic items to their neighbors and earning a needed income for their families.

Grocery store operators of that era who have been featured in this author’s historic series include:

Max Sonis, a Russian immigrant, who operated a corner grocery store during this era at Seventh and Bird.

Pink M. Snyder, who conducted a grocery store out of the duplex where he lived, 2514 Chestnut.

M.J. Canella, operating a grocery at 703 Broadway.

Nick Caruso, who sold groceries at 1927 Market.

And this week, the spotlight turns on Cornelius Smith Keith.

A son of Pike County, Mo., C.S. Keith started and ended his career working on a farm, but in between, he made his living selling groceries.

His path was somewhat different from other aforementioned grocers, however, in that he learned the grocery trade by working for a national grocery chain: Kroger.

The Kroger Grocery Co., was established in 1883 at Cincinnati, Ohio, but first shows up in the Hannibal city directories in 1923. The town boasted three stores: 222 N. Main, managed by E.L. Horst; 2226 Market, managed by Joseph Schneider; and 713 Union, managed by R.R. Shulse.

The next year, C.S. Keith was working at the Kroger Store in New London, Ralls County, Mo., when he was called upon to fill a temporary vacancy at the company’s Palmyra location, Marion County, Mo., following the abrupt resignation of its manager, H.C. Kern.

Within a few weeks Keith was back at work in New London, but that assignment wouldn’t last long. The 1925 Hannibal city directory lists Mr. Keith as manager of the Kroger store at 2226 Market Street. He and his wife, Anna, were living at 1113 Church St. After building a state-of-the-art bakery in St. Louis, the company was now known as the Kroger Grocery and Baking Co.

On his own

Sometime in the 1930s, C.S. Keith struck out on his own. By 1937 he was operating a grocery store under his own name, competing head-to-head in the same block as the store he previously managed.

Kroger, still located at 2226 Market, was at that time managed by a man whose name is still familiar to long-time Hannibal residents: Stanley H. Smith.

Across the street, at 2207 Market, was the grocery and meat store operated by C.S. Keith. As was typical in that era, C.S. and his wife, Anna, lived upstairs over the grocery.

The Keith grocery store was located next door to the building (recently razed) which housed Fitz’s. The Kroger Store was across the street and to the west, on the northeast corner of Gordon and Market. (Now demolished.)

During 1937, there were 431 Kroger stores doing business in Missouri. Paul Ballard was manager of the Kroger Store at Palmyra.

Palmyra grocery stores in 1937 included:

Palmyra Grocery, B.F. Osterhout, manager; Kiefer Cash Store, Krogers, O.H. Schnitzer, Vallbracht Food Store, Carl F. Schaffer, A&P Store, C.W. Nill, Fagan Produce Co., and Yeager Bros.

In addition to the five Kroger stores in Hannibal in 1937, another national chain was represented: A&P, operating at store at 200 N. Main, operated by F.E. Kelley.

To name just a few of the 114 grocery stores located in Hannibal in 1937:

Ahler’s Grocery and Cottages 3603-15 McMaster’s Ave.

D.W. Carenen, 611 Union.

Niemann Bros. Groceries, 2200 Market.

Virginia Roach, 1406 Union.

Self Serving Grocery, 300 N. Main.

G.E. Yost, 1024 Lindell.

W.W.Sankpill, 800 Pleasant.

C.W. Sparrow, 2927 St. Mary’s Ave.

S.C. Tilbe, 321 Grand.

Prices advertised at the Palmyra Grocery store on July 7, 1937, included:

Oleo, 13 ½ cents per pound

Sugar, 10 pounds for 47 cents

Bananas, 5 cents per pound

Dream flour, 24 pounds for 79 cents

Cocoa, 2 pound box for 15 cents

Apple butter, per quart, 18 cents

Kroger left Hannibal in 2012, but remains the country’s second largest general retailer. (Wikipedia)

Cornelius Keith

Born April 30, 1895, in Frankford, Mo., to George Rason and Sarah Epperson Keith, Cornelius Keith was among the younger members of a very large family – consisting of as many as 19 children, according to records posted on the Find A Grave website.

Early in his life, Keith worked as a farm hand. At the time he registered for the draft at the beginning of the first World War, his grocery career had already begun. In 1918 the 23-year-old was working as a clerk for A.G. Kennedy, a grocer in New London, Mo.

At the age of 22, he was united in marriage to Anna, and two years later he was working for the Kroger Company in New London. It is unclear if they had children.

Standing at 5-foot-7 ½ inches, by the time registration for service in the second world war rolled around in 1942, he was rather hefty, weighing in at 192 pounds. His military records show that at the time of his registration, he had a gun wound on right leg.

Cornelius died June 16, 1960, and his wife died in 1990. They are buried together at Grand View Burial Park in Ralls County.

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