By Mary Lou Egan
When Max Strait purchased the Westerkamp Grocery at 5106 Washington in 1952 he already had lots of experience in the business. He and his wife, Susie Levitt Strait, each grew up working in their family’s markets, and Max had operated several other stores in Denver. For the Globeville neighborhood, Max Strait couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
Small merchants were disappearing, bought or crowded out by chain stores – Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, Miller and Red Owl – that residents would need a car to reach. Construction of the Valley Highway had displaced families on Globeville’s west side, and the creation of Stapleton Public Housing at 51st and Logan brought in “outsiders.” The spread of industries was changing the character of Globeville. Longtime residents moved away. Max was unfazed.
Max focused on his customers. He continued to carry the special flour Volga-German ladies used to make their rye bread, as well as the ingredients needed for posole and menudo. As other markets went under, Max purchased their inventory to offer more selections to shoppers. He also kept the practice of free delivery and allowing patrons to buy on credit.
Max loved his customers and made sure there was an abundance of fresh produce and meat, as well as hardware, work gloves, brooms, bedding plants and 3.2 Coors beer! To the community, he was a hero, but to granddaughter Pennye McFarland, he was Poppie.
Pennye smiled as she remembered, “People came to checkout and Poppie knew all their names, their kids’ names and where they went to school. He let me work at the candy counter under the guidance of Nina Fuentes. My mom, Judy, and my brother Mike made deliveries.”
The market survived the construction of I-70, creeping industrialization and the devastating 1965 Platte River Flood. But increasing health problems forced Max to retire in July 1977.
Overnight, a large Eller Outdoor billboard appeared that read, “HAPPY RETIREMENT MAX,” and somehow the citizenry was able to secretly organize a celebration in the lot south of the store. “They made me work the check stand. It was a frameup,” Max said with a chuckle.
Almost the entire community was there. Heads of community associations offered praises and well wishes. Mary Zapien, representing Globeville’s Neighborhood Development Corporation, spoke for everyone when she said, “Max showed more faith in our neighborhood than some of the people who lived here. They moved out and Max stayed and helped us. Max – thank you, gracias, danke, shalom.”
Max Strait died in April 1982. His memory is a blessing.
Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.