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A shopping trip to Frederick Street—Part III

Exhausted and exhilarated
Published: 
Sunday, December 18, 2016
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The Bonanza looks regal too, with its elegant wrought-iron façade, designed by the great architect and contractor, Mr George Brown, who was responsible for bringing the design elements of wrought iron made in Scotland and handmade gingerbread wooden fretwork to the island. Inside, the Bonanza is different from other older buildings since it is lighted naturally by a lantern roof, also a piece of genius on the part of Mr Brown. The Bonanza stocks every imaginable staple, dry and fancy item imaginable. From groceries, toys, millinery and shoes, to Yost typewriters and Butterick dress patterns, the Bonanza has it all. Messrs Smith and Co are even opening a department for the repair and outfitting of motor cars and lorries, a few of which we see on the street.

While the children are mesmerized by dolls, tin soldiers, whistles and toy ‘cap’ guns, mother and father can browse the dizzying array of fabrics and draperies, while upstairs (yes, the Bonanza also offers second-floor shopping) is jam-packed with furniture of every description. All that is needed to furnish even the most palatial of homes (it is said that Mr Gordon of Gordon Grant and Co buys furniture for his mansion, Knowsley, here) can be found on this floor, including cast-iron four-poster beds with their brass accents, to bentwood rockers, morris chairs, washstands with marble tops, and even kitchen ‘safes’ with baize netting on the doors to prevent ants from getting at the food which will be stored within. Truly, it is said that good, local handmade furniture at low prices can be had from Mr Dick’s ‘Little Store’ on Charlotte St or at Mr James Todd’s place, but the Bonanza store’s variety is impossible to match. If next year’s cocoa crop is as profitable as this year’s we may also terminate our agency contract with Arnott, Lambie and Co and freight our cocoa beans to the Bonanza instead, since they are also produce agents, and stock all the hardware necessary for the sugar and cocoa industry.

Shopping is thirsty work and our energies must be boosted with something cool and refreshing. Happily, nearby is the Merry Widow, which boasts the finest confectionery and pastry as well as ice cream sodas. The jolly proprietor, Mr Dalla Costa, formerly worked in the tea room of the famous Macy’s department store in New York City and returned to Trinidad where this year (1910) he opened his ice cream parlour and tea room. A brass soda fountain is a fixture of the store. It operated with the soda water being stored under pressure. Plain soda is dispensed into a highball glass, and then flavouring added from another tap—cola, orange, vanilla etc. Ice cream can be added to make the ice cream sodas which have the children in ecstasies. Mr Dalla Costa is a charitable man, and has a great deal of sympathy for widows of the upper classes whose dead husbands did not provide for them. He has provided these unfortunate ladies with a room where they can chat and sip tea while they knit elaborate lace and wonderful tea cosies which he displays for sale near the soda fountain. We buy a few dozen pastelles from the Merry Widow, a delicacy for which they are famous and which they take orders for from the great houses of the city, and which they deliver wrapped in banana leaves.

We must once again repair to the hot and dusty Frederick St where we now visit the wrought-iron bedecked store of Mr James Todd where we can get new oil lamps for the home, the old ones being so sooty now that we can no longer read the ‘Home Sweet Home’ painted on the shade. Mr Todd also sells stationery, and we can now purchase blotters, fountain pens and slates for the children in preparation for the new school term which begins after the Christmas holidays. We also check into Miller’s Public Supply stores (also a gem of Mr George Brown’s architecture) where father purchases boxes of shotgun cartridges which are a must on a cocoa estate or else bushy-tailed squirrels and noisy green parrots would soon destroy all the pods which are the livelihood of the family. Father is secretive in his manner because while at the counter paying for the ammunition, he is also paying for a new Triumph bicycle for his eldest son, which will be delivered in time for Christmas as a surprise. He also did not forget mother, and a cast-iron cookstove had already been purchased and is awaiting delivery, so that she need no longer slave over a dirty coal pot to prepare meals.

While we are on this section of Frederick St we pay a visit to the Colonial Dispensary of WC Ross and Co which has been in business for many years. While the children are treated to chocolate bonbons from the confectionery section, mother purchases raw, bitter quinine since malaria is still a killer in the forested regions of the island this substance is the only remedy for the deadly mosquito-borne fever. Also on the list is a bottle of Ferrol compound to build healthy bodies as is Stearn’s Wine of Cod Liver extract.

Back down Frederick St and a brief stop at the stores of Stephens and Co, Mr Bruce Stephens, a resident of Demerara opened his department store in 1896 and is now a rival to the Bonanza as a large, and well stocked emporium. The façade boasts a clock which has never carried erroneous time and is referred to by all and sundry who wish to know the hour. Mr Stephens is also a philanthropist and has established a fund for the destitute children of the city. We only tarry here to buy a few articles of ready-made clothing, particularly a corset for mother and long-johns for father. Although second place to the Bonanza, Mr Stephens still asserts that his emporium is “the best place to buy everything”. Mr Stephens has decorated his store with white cotton wool to resemble snow and has strewn tinsel everywhere. He has imported a curiosity we have never seen before. It is an artificial fir tree and looks near enough to the real article to confuse even the sharpest eyes. He has a few for sale, but at nine dollars each, they are much too expensive for simple country proprietors.

We are now laden with the spoils of shopping and the fading light means that the wonderful savour of Christmas plenty on Frederick St is now drawing to a close. For two shillings, we are chauffeured in style in a horse-drawn cab with its brass lamps and frock-coated cabman who is very polite and speaks patois as do almost all the people on the street. We are now back on the platform of the Trinidad Government Railway and the idling, puffing steam engine is ready to take us home….exhausted and exhilarated after the unique experience of shopping in Port-of-Spain in 1910.

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