by Joseph R Palmer 1902-1994
My father Rocco Palmer started what is now Palmer’s Supermarket in the old Noroton Heights Center in 1921. The store was located in the Fitelson building, opposite the park, just off Noroton Avenue. I took over the business in 1937. We had developed it from a meat market into a grocery store that was about thirty feet wide and maybe sixty feet long. Our home was located down the street on Noroton Avenue next to the Dolan building that held a dry cleaning store and a shoemaker shop. Alongside this was a rocky lane that led to the Piedmont Hall… which was a major source of culture… especially in the Depression years.
During the Great Depression, people barely existed. The grocery business was so different then. Everything was bought in bulk and the weighing and packaging was done for each customer. We did anything to save a penny, and there weren’t many to be found. The Heights was full of men just hanging around or moving through looking for work. My wife, Olga, often gave out some of our food at home to beggars who we could not help feeling sorry for, no matter how hard we were fighting to exist.
In those times, we never spent money on entertainment. A lot of our activities were centered around the Heights Firehouse on Hecker Avenue. We held all of our meetings there and also the fundraisers, card parties, spaghetti dinners, dances, and of course, the annual carnival. During World War Two, the grocery business really changed. I’ll never forget those darned red and blue ration stamps. Some grocery items were rationed and others had price controls. We had to weigh out all the sugar, coffee and butter in small size batches so everyone would get some. We often did it at night in the back room to avoid being pressured by someone for more than his share. After the war, the Heights merchants knew that we had to work together if we wanted to keep the Heights on the map. We formed the Noroton Heights Business Association and started all kinds of local promotions. It wasn’t long before we began to hear rumors from Hartford about the plans for a super highway. We couldn’t believe that it was planned to completely wipe out the Heights Center. Bill Stoler came to me with the idea of using his property on Linden Avenue to build some new stores where we could expand to meet the needs of all the new people who were moving into Darien. We convinced Union Trust Bank to fund our new building and to join the Stolers Variety Store with Palmer’s on Linden Avenue in about 1950.” “We were only in our new store on Linden Avenue for six years before the highway was finally cleared for bonding. With little time left, we were forced to purchase the present location on Heights Road, which was owned by the Calve family and used as a construction area with an existing small building. When we first opened our new store in about 1956-57 we were located where Stolers is now (where Darien Fabricare and Barrett Bookstore are today). After just six years, we leased the property on the east side of the shopping center, where we are now and built the present structure. I was very fortunate that my boys Rocco, Joe, and Al decided to continue in business with me, making it much easier to keep up with changes in the community. We are now proud that the next generation is taking hold and maybe Palmer’s will make it to their one hundredth year, who knows?”