Posted on 07 November 2013 by La Habra Journal
By Jennifer Nguyen
La Habra Journal
Jim Gomez swiftly scraped and scooped a mountain of shaved ice from the snow cone machine, placing it into a cone-shaped paper cup. After one more scoop, the La Habra councilman topped the snow cone with a hefty drizzle of fruity flavored syrup before handing the treat to a guest.
Looking back: Museum attendees look at photos depicting La Habra’s past businesses. The La Habra Historical Museum’s new exhibit is titled “Old Businesses of La Habra: 1920s–1960s.”
His father, Ben Gomez, opened the rest of the tall, glass bottles of syrup so he and his son could be prepared for more incoming visitors expected for the next few hours. Jim Gomez’s grandfather, Tadeo Gomez, used to sell snow cones – or raspados, in Spanish – at the La Chiquita Market back in 1943. Before closing in 1986, people from all over Southern California would come to the La Habra ‘mom and pop’ store for the cool dessert during the summer weekends. “They were 20 cents back then, and they would make about $600 in one day,” said Jim Gomez. The father-and-son duo represented one of many past businesses at Saturday’s grand opening ceremony of La Habra Historical Museum’s new exhibit, “Old Businesses of La Habra: 1920s–1960s.” The reception was held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with light refreshments, catered by Chick-Fil-A; music from the early days, and vintage cars. The museum exhibit, which opened to the public at noon, houses a wide collection of artifacts from old businesses in the city, like Caplinger Pharmacy, the Chamber of Commerce, La Habra Music Center, Trappers Inn, Villelli Enterprises, and Don Steves Chevrolet Two maps were displayed, showing where all the businesses were located in, and prior to, 1920. Old, black-and-white photos that have been well-preserved were on display throughout the facility as well, with one showing how Central Avenue and La Habra Boulevard once looked during the early 1900s. Instead of major grocery chains like Von’s or Ralph’s, there were small general stores up and down the streets, selling goods for no more than 60 cents per pound, gallon, or dozen. Other items on display included an old typewriter Richard Nixon used in his law office; bowling shoes and a bowling bag from 300 Bowl; a photo album of Betty Lou Nichols, who operated her popular ceramics business in 1945 to 1962, and a chandelier that once belonged to the Trappers Inn restaurant. There were antique produce scales, cheese graters, electric egg beaters, a 1945 Maytag Wringer washing machine, and other household items that were also part of the archives.
Lady Bugs Environmental Termite and Pest Control was also present at the grand opening reception. Opened in 2010, Lady Bugs is one of the more recent businesses in La Habra.
Reminiscing: Linda Steves takes time to examine the display showcasing Don Steves Chevrolet at the La Habra Historical Museum.
Diego Hernandez, owner of Lady Bugs, opened the business after coming out of retirement, “right in the middle of the recession, right when everything was falling apart,” he said. “It kept me busy; it kept me focused.” Hernandez enjoyed his time at the ceremony Saturday, and said he hopes his business will be around for a long time. Liz Steves is a museum volunteer who interviewed all the La Habra businesses for this exhibit. “It was an amazing experience and educational to go around and speak with these folks, and learn about how the businesses were established,” she said. Steves contributed 25 hours into contacting people, holding interviews, and picking up memorabilia. Along the way, she also found that some businesses did not have any memorabilia, and she encourages every independent business in La Habra to keep a storage of items that pertain to their business, such as advertisements and newspaper clippings. She also suggested writing an annual story about one’s business, and make notes of what they have done in their business. “Create a time capsule for your business so future generations can appreciate the effort it took to start a business, because it is not easy to start a business,” said Steves. “That’s my most important message.” Suzette Eschberger, the museum’s registrar, said it is important for people to come in and share the memories they have of the city’s early days, remembering the times they would go to Caplinger or La Chiquita Market. “With the docents coming, and the stories they’re telling, it’s pretty neat,” she said. “It’s such a rich history here.” The museum has also had a history of its own. Before its soft opening in 2009, the facility once served as a children’s library until the new La Habra Branch Library was built in 1967. “A lot of people have come in and said, ‘Oh yeah, I used to get dropped off here and go rent the books!’” said Eschberger. Since it’s opened its doors, the museum has had exhibits on Betty Lou Nichols, organizations of La Habra, the Lions Club, and the war veterans of La Habra.
The “Old Businesses of La Habra” exhibit is opened every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., and will run until March 22, 2014.