302 Queen Anne Avenue
Aasten’s Grocery, which opened in 1925, stood at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Thomas Street for twenty-seven years. Like many other small neighborhood grocery stores of that era, it was a family business owned and operated by immigrants to the United States.
John Gunnufsen Aasten was hardworking and ambitious. He was born in Hovind, Norway on March 8, 1887. Aasten and his wife Karen came to the United States from Norway in 1906. He was nineteen. On his arrival, he listed his occupation as laborer. In 1917, on his Draft Registration card, he declared himself a miner employed by the Seattle Engineering Department. By 1924, however, he had found his calling. On the Declaration of Intention he filed that year to become a United States citizen, he registered his occupation as grocer.
In 1925, Aasten purchased two adjoining lots for $7,000 from Nellie Dempsey1. They were located at 302 and 306 Queen Anne Avenue, on the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Thomas Street. At that time, Aasten was the proprietor of a meat market at 2040 East Madison. His goal was to build a new grocery store and go into business on Queen Anne. He began by leveling the lots, hauling dirt to the waterfront in his grocery truck.
Aasten and his wife developed the land into a small compound. Next to the grocery store, they built a two-story brick house where they lived with their daughters Anna and Molly. What distinguished Aasten’s Grocery from other grocery stores on Queen Anne was that year-round much of its fresh produce was grown by the Aasten family on their property. Behind the store they kept a large garden where they grew the produce sold in the store. As Aasten’s Queen Anne neighbor R. O. Bishop noted, the Aastens transformed “a hardpan corner lot into a lush garden which supplied the store with much of its truck produce2“. The store was a family business where they all worked. Molly later recalled that the milk came from Kristofferson’s Dairy, the eggs and butter from Turner & Pease, the potatoes and onions from Dahlgren’s on the waterfront, and most canned goods from Schwabacher Brothers3. The photo shows the extensive garden maintained behind the store.
In that era, a major hazard of operating a small neighborhood grocery store was the likelihood that its owner would be robbed on multiple occasions. The Seattle Daily Times reported that John Aasten was the victim of robbery on several occasions. In October 1938, Joseph Feustal held up Aasten in his store, returned to California, and then with a guilty conscience, surrendered to Burbank authorities. The Burbank police photographed him and sent the photo to John Aasten, but he was unable to identify Feustal as the thief. The following year, Feustal again robbed Aasten with an accomplice “because it was such an easy job.” However, Aasten ducked behind the counter and ran toward a back room. Thinking he had gone for a gun, the thieves fled to a nearby service station and attempted to unlock the door. Responding to Aasten’s call, the police arrived and arrested them4. Years later, in November, 1950, the newspaper reported that Aasten was robbed in his store twice in three days by the same man5.
John Aasten died at age 83 in 1971. Anna married in 1941, but Molly never married and lived in the family home at 306 Queen Anne Avenue until her death in April 2010.
The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historical Site Survey in 2000 determined that the Aasten property appears to meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places and the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. It was described as the only wood-frame corner grocery store building remaining in the lower Queen Anne area. “The complex of the store, house, and garage is a significant reminder of Queen Anne history6“. Today, two stores occupy the former premises of Aasten’s Grocery, The Mailbox, which sells private mailbox rentals, and Sign Wizard, which makes custom signs.
- “Realty Trade Brisk”. Seattle Daily Times, November 15, 1925, p.28. ↩
- R.O. Bishop, “A Nickel Here, a Dime There”. Queen Anne Historical Society Oral History Project, May 30, 1992, p. 1. ↩
- Kay Francis Reinhartz, Ed., Queen Anne: Community on the Hill. (Seattle: Queen Anne Historical Society, 1993) p. 164. ↩
- “Grocer, Twice Victim, Still Unable to Identify Suspect”. Seattle Daily News, April 23, 1939, p. 9. ↩
- “Same Man Robs Grocer 2nd Time”. Seattle Daily Times, November 21, 1950, p. 11. ↩
- Seattle.gov. Department of Neighborhoods, Historical Sites, Summary for 300 Queen Anne Ave., 2000. ↩