This Was Then: Street Store

One of Edgartown’s seven groceries at the dawn of the 20th century.

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There were no fewer than seven grocery stores in downtown Edgartown at the turn of the 20th century. The list, which included Pease Brothers, Thomas Mellon, Holmes Smith, and four others, doesn’t even include Edgartown’s five dealers in “fish, oysters and clams”; its two bakeries, nor the shops specializing in fruits and vegetables, confectionery, “provisions,” or ice cream.

One of these, a longtime Edgartown grocery known popularly as the “Street Store,” was owned and operated by Manuel Silva Jr. (1854-1932) on South Summer Street for 30 years. He was a Portuguese-speaking immigrant — a native of the island of Fayal in the Azores, who had come to Edgartown at the age of 5 with his parents.

Don’t confuse Manuel Silva the Edgartown grocer with Manuel Silva the Edgartown fisherman or Manuel Silva the Edgartown farmer or Manuel Silva, pilot of the Uncatena, however. There were a multitude of Manuel Silvas and Manuel Silvias on the Island at the beginning of the 20th century — it was probably the most common name on the Island for the first half of the century. (The 1910 Martha’s Vineyard directory lists many Mannys: six adults named “Manuel Silva” in Edgartown, for instance, and five named “Manuel Silvia” living in Oak Bluffs.)

Grocer Silva’s parents, both natives of São Jorge island, lived off Pease’s Point Way, where Manuel Sr. toiled as a lifelong farmer. (When he died at the age of 94 in 1912, Manuel Silva Sr. was Edgartown’s oldest resident, living long enough to meet his great-great-grandchild.)

Manuel Silva Jr. went to sea at the age of 13 as a cabin boy on the Edgartown whaler Linda Stewart. He later worked as a mackerel fisherman on the Grand Banks, then on a coal barge, and finally on a revenue cutter before giving up the sea entirely. In 1892, he bought Samuel Pent’s grocery business in Edgartown and began a new career selling groceries, cigars, and confectionery.

Silva’s grocery moved three times, but never left South Summer Street. One of his Summer Street neighbors, Lisbon native and fellow Azorean immigrant John Bent (1866-1934), soon opened his own meat and grocery store on Main Street.

Another longtime Summer Street neighbor was Joseph “Uncle Joe” Currier (1869-1921), a Cottage City native (pictured here with Silva). Currier closed his bicycle business and moved to Edgartown just after the turn of the century, where he simultaneously opened two new businesses: a meat and grocery store on Main Street with his brother Edgar — ”the Currier Brothers Grocery” — and a (hopefully unrelated) undertaking business, located right next door to Silva’s Street Store.

In 1922, Silva retired. He sold the Street Store to a former shoe store manager, Philip Pent. This new owner was the son of Samuel Pent, the gentleman whom Silva had bought his business from 30 years earlier. The new generation of Pents maintained the grocery for another decade, until the Great Depression finally claimed it. About 1935, Pent and his wife Charlotte shuttered their struggling grocery for good, and reopened their building as a hotel. They renamed their new business after Mrs. Pent, and christened it “the Charlotte Inn.”

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphics at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. His book, “Martha’s Vineyard Tales,” containing many “This Was Then” columns, was released in 2018.