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Whyte Brothers Grocery
Whyte Brothers Grocery
TitleWhyte Brothers Grocery
DescriptionPostcard of the interior of the E. Whyte Grocery, Fruit & Wine Company
Historical ArticleUpon food and drink depend your health. 'Tis what you save that brings you wealth.

So read the jingle which was part of the advertisement of the E. Whyte Grocery, Fruit & Wine Co. from a Willis Wood Theater program of Oct. 15, 1905. The ad continued: Purveyors to the People; Table & Health Wines. 1121-1123 Walnut. Both Phones. About 1908 the store moved to 1115-1119 McGee.

The proprietors were four brothers: William Wallace Whyte, George P. Whyte, Ebenezer Whyte, Jr. and Frank D. Whyte. These brothers hold a unique position in Kansas City merchandising since they were the founders of the city's first chain stores, the Whyco Stores.

The Whyte brothers had received early training in the business from their father, Ebenezer Whyte, Sr., a grocer at 912 Main. He arrived in the United States from Scotland in 1858 as a draper (salesman for a Scottish woolen house).

In Chicago he met and married Sophia Pritchard, an English girl, daughter of George Pritchard, baronet, astronomer to Queen Victoria. Sophia had received her formal education in Paris.

Whyte first settled in Chicago where he joined with a man named Rose to establish Rose & Whyte, pork packers. They sold the company in 1877 to Plankington & Armour, packers from Milwaukee, thus giving the start to Armour & Co. in Chicago.

When Ebenezer Whyte, Sr., came to Kansas City by train in 1877, he was seeking a permanent location. He had left his wife and their five children in Chicago. Riding on the same train with Whyte was another passenger seeking a new location, William Rockhill Nelson, who later founded The Kansas City Star.Whyte was often to recount this story to his children and grandchildren.

Both men chose to settle in Kansas City and Whyte wrote back to his family, God willing, I will come back for you in two years.

South Location

Whytes first store was way out south at 912 Main. At the time the business of Kansas City was centered around 5th and Main. The store carried many more items than groceries and fruit. Shelves were lined with glassware, wash bowls, pitchers, tinware, queensware and crockery. Heavy hickory baskets and woven clothes baskets were hung across the front of the store. Bushel baskets and barrels of merchandise and grocery items filled the space between sidewalk and curb.

Since Kansas City's business was moving south, Whyte's location proved to be good. He prospered and sent for his family. A home was established at 9th and Cherry. The four young sons joined in the business, each taking an active part.

Ebenezer Whyte was an autocrat, typical of his generation of English and Scottish gentlemen. In his store, he wore no necktie but a gold collar button with a diamond secured his stiff collar. He sent his collars each week to Troy, N.Y., to be laundered, starched and blocked. In the early 1890s he built Waverly Block--the 900 block of East 11th. The family occupied the 17-room corner unit. When his sons married they brought their brides to live there. The remainder of the block, built like the row houses of the East, was rented. The 902 and 904 units contained 12 to 14 rooms each.

The Waverly Block building was of cut greystone such as those on Fifth Avenue in New York. It was about 15 feet back from the sidewalk. Above each entrance door were leaded stained-glass transoms.

Each apartment had fire-places and its own coal-fired hot-water unit in the basement. The whole block was heated by a steam system whose furnace was in an attached boiler house on the alley. In winter the furnace took over a ton of coal a day.

After the death of Ebenezer Whyte in 1901 his four sons took over the business. Their mother was named president of the company and is so designated in early city directories.

Home Delivery

The early Whyte stores, at 1121 Walnut and later at 1115 McGee, had two horse-drawn delivery wagons with the company name on the sides. About 1915 the wagons were replaced by trucks.

Deliveries were made of orders placed by phone or given by customers who came into the store.

The other large grocery of those days was Quinns at 5th and Walnut. In the first decade of the century Fred Wolferman moved to Walnut from his father's butcher shop on 9th.

In 1915 the Whyte stores discontinued the sale of wine and spirits, anticipating the 18th ammendment. However the corporate name was not changed. In the 1890s the company's ad in the Kansas City Journal quoted Old Crow whisky at $3.50 a gallon and lesser brands as low as $2 a gallon.

The Whyte store on McGee was about 75 feet wide and a half block deep, to the alley. The second floor was the bakery for bread, cakes and pastries.

There were three front display windows. The north window was refrigerated and adjoined the meat department whose storage walk-in refrigerator was near the rear of the store. The center window would slide upwards to permit selling to passers-by. The south window was fixed and at one time the coffee roaster was installed there. The refrigerated meat display was an innovation. At the old Walnut store, as was customary in those days, carcasses or quarters of beef, lamb and swine had been hung on meat hooks outside the store.

Walls were covered with shelves to the ceiling--14 feet high with ladders on tracks to give access to the upper shelves. Some of the lower shelves were replaced with tilt-out, glass-fronted bins in which were stored dried beans, dried fruits, sugars, teas, coffees and spices. These were sacked each time a customer wanted some. Jams, jellies, peanut butter, lard, pickles, olives, cookies, crackers, cheeses were all in bulk and weighed or counted out to order.

Live chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese were brought to the store daily by farmers and penned in an area in the basement. Each day a sufficient number of poultry was dressed out for sale. There were no packaged meats. Bacon was sliced to order; roasts, steaks and chops were cut while the customer looked on. Liver was free for the asking as dog or cat food.

There were 10 to 15 clerks to wait on customers, whose orders were written up for later delivery or packed to take out. Deliveries were made in folding wooden boxes which were unloaded at the customer's homes. Take-outs were wrapped in paper and tied with string. The large, heavy kraft sacks of today were unknown, as were paperboard and corrugated boxes.

Supplied Hotels

Hotels and restaurants of Kansas City and Excelsior Springs were important customers. George P. Whyte went twice a week to Excelsior Springs on the train, either the Wabash or the Milwaukee, to solicit orders. The depot in the West Bottoms was reached by the 9th Street cable car.

The first Whyco store was opened in 1915 at 2603 Prospect, soon followed by stores at 33rd and Troost and 31st and Brooklyn. In the next 10 years or so the chain numbered 50 stores, two of which were in Kansas City, Kansas. Milk was 5 cents a quart and bread 5 cents a loaf.

These stores were relatively small, and the store manager or clerk served each customer. No fresh meats or delicatessen meats were sold in these stores. Customer deliveries were made by neighborhood boys with coaster wagons.

A huge sale celebrated the 50th anniversary of the stores on Nov. 1, 1927. A news story of the day read: Three sons of sons are coming on to carry on the Whyte tradition in the Kansas City trade. George P. Whye is a buyer in the organization and Ebenezer Frank Whyte, a student at Harvard University, and Kenneth Whyte both have announced their intention of remaining in the business.

Shortly after the anniversary sale a large national chain of grocers initiated a move to purchase the 50 Whyco stores, but the Whyte brothers refused the offer. The decision was regretted in the dark days of the Depression that were soon to come.

The effects of the crash of 1929 took their toll and Whyco stores began closing. There were only about 16 at the time of the final shutdown in 1932.

In the 10 years after 1932, Ebenezer Whyte, Jr., lived in Miami, and died in the spring of 1942. Frank died later that year and Will soon followed. George survived into the late 1950s.

Descendants of Ebenezer Whyte are scattered across the country. One, Ebenezer Frank Whyte, the Harvard grandson mentioned earlier, now a resident of Jenkintown, Pa., has memories of the stores back to 1909 when his father, Frank, first let him wait on the trade and pack orders for delivery.

Two great-granddaughters living in the Kansas City area are Mrs. Jeanne Whyte Shopen, 2714 W. 71st Terrace, Prairie Village, and Mrs. Clarbeth Whyte Moore, 6416 Sagamore, Mission Hills.

Kansas City Times
December 10, 1971

AuthorRay, Mrs. Sam (Mildred)
Item TypePostcard
CollectionMrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection (SC58)
See finding aid: http://localhistory.kclibrary.org/u?/Local,36981
Local SubjectE. Whyte Grocery, Fruit & Wine Company
Grocery Stores
Digital FormatJPEG
RepositoryMissouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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