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Ask Me: Coffee’s store was 82-year Fresno landmark

Coffee’s clothing store, a Fresno fixture since 1916, closed its Fulton Mall store, shown here in this 1984 Bee file photo, in January 1985.
Coffee’s clothing store, a Fresno fixture since 1916, closed its Fulton Mall store, shown here in this 1984 Bee file photo, in January 1985. Fresno Bee file photo

Q: When I was growing up in Tulare, my parents and I made trips to Fresno for my “outfitting” for school at Coffee’s men’s clothing store, during the late 1950s to mid-1960s. I believe it was on Fulton Street. Is the store still there?

Herb Renstrom, Visalia

A: When Coffee’s clothing store closed in 1998 after 82 years in business, it was located in the Mission Village Shopping Center at Fresno and Shaw avenues.

A seven-page 1965 typewritten history of Coffee’s, possibly provided by the company, is included in a clip file of stories about Coffee’s in The Bee’s library.

The history says Harry Coffee founded the store in Fresno in 1916, but he was involved in clothing sales several years before then.

As a young man growing up in Oakland, Coffee worked in a store owned by his father, Michael Coffee, who was “the first clothing man in the East Bay city,” according to a Bee story. After serving with the National Guard in Hawaii, Coffee returned to California in 1900 and worked as a traveling salesman “for a line of men’s apparel furnishings,” the store history said.

In about 1904 Coffee opened his first store in the gold boom town of Goldfield, Nev. In 1910 Coffee left Nevada and opened a store in Bakersfield, on 19th Street near Chester Avenue. His slogan was “Harry Coffee Your Bosom Friend.”

As the store prospered, Coffee decided to expand his business, the history said: “Believing that Fresno was destined to be the largest city north of Bakersfield,” in 1916 Coffee bought McAfee’s Men’s Store at 1025 Fulton St.

Coffee’s had by-appointment shopping for busy customers.

Coffee opened a third store in Stockton in 1919, but the business was destroyed by fire in 1924 and he did not reopen it.

Coffee expanded the Bakersfield store during the 1920s and 1930s. A 1933 Fresno Bee advertisement for both stores offered “Your Easter Suit” for men from $14.95 to $30. Coffee added women’s clothing at both stores in 1936.

Coffee’s store continued to operate after his death in 1938. According to a July 7, 1938, story in The Bee, Coffee, 58, had a heart attack and died while swimming in the surf at Santa Monica that morning. (The Bee was an evening paper at the time.)

“H.M. Campbell, Santa Monica clothier and an intimate friend of Coffee, in a telephone message to The Fresno Bee this afternoon, said Coffee collapsed immediately after being struck by a huge wave as he was entering the water. Mrs. Coffee was with her husband at the time of his death,” the story said.

Coffee and his wife, Anna, had been in Santa Monica since the previous Saturday and planned to travel to San Francisco and on to New York, The Bee story said. They lived on Home Avenue less than a block from the original Saint Agnes Hospital at Fruit and Floradora avenues.

After Coffee’s death, leadership of both stores was taken over by Roy E. Paehlig, who had worked for Coffee since 1911.

Coffee’s was sold to Cluett, Peabody and Co. in 1961. In 1964 the Fulton Mall store moved to the Patterson Building downtown. In 1970, Coffee’s opened a branch store in Fashion Fair Mall. The downtown store was closed in 1985. In 1991, Coffee’s moved from Fashion Fair’s main building to a former bank building at Fresno Street and Shaw Avenue.

Q: What is the history of the old Pershing School building? My mother attended the school in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Was the building relocated?

C. Perkins, Fresno

A: Pershing Elementary School was built at McKinley and Jameson avenues in 1920, and the one-story brick building was torn down in 1965.

According to “History of Public School Organization and Administration in Fresno County, California,” the Pershing District was formed in 1920 from portions of the Biola, Empire, Houghton, Roosevelt and Barstow school districts.

“The Pershing schoolhouse  had an enrollment of 90 students when it opened shortly after World War I but had lost one-half its attendance by the time of merger with the Biola District” in 1960, the book said.

A 1923 school picture of the small rural school shows boys dressed in denim overalls and girls in summer dresses. There were 10 students in the eighth-grade graduating class of 1924.

The school was named for Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who was said to be the most celebrated soldier of the early 20th century.

The Heritage Center in the downtown Fresno County Library has a file on Pershing School prepared by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women for a planned but unpublished second volume of the group’s book on Fresno County schools. The file contains handwritten notes of interviews with former Pershing teachers.

In a 1994 interview, Betty Schweickert, who taught at Pershing from 1949 to 1952, said early-day teacher Nellie Long wrote to Gen. Pershing asking permission to name the school after him.

In another interview two years later, Schweickert recalled the school had a mothers’ club whose members sewed green and white dresses for girls to wear for the students’ May pole dance during annual May Day festivities at Central Union High School, although the year is not clear. The boys wore white pants and green shirts.

Former teacher Florence Carey, whose dates of service are not recorded, recalled in 1994 that the school was surrounded by about 10 acres. The school yard had no equipment. Coal for the stove was stored in the basement.

Carey recalled that another teacher, a Miss Pecharovich, supplied the students with sample-size soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush and “each morning she checked each child for cleanliness.”

To earn money for school supplies, students sold Milky Way candy bars.

To earn money for school supplies, students sold Milky Way candy bars, Carey recalled. “One teacher brought a hot plate so they could make hot chocolate to sell,” she said.

Pershing Continuation High School opened in 1974 at West Nielsen and North Teilman avenues.

More about: In answering a question for the Dec. 27 Ask Me column about a Stanford University scholarship established by W.J. Dickey, a Stanford official sent more information that arrived after deadline.

According to Julia Hartung, director of development for undergraduate education at Stanford, Dickey’s $10,000 scholarship fund established in 1914 has benefited 107 students to date.

Dickey set up the scholarship to “aid young men of Fresno County to make their way through Stanford University,” according to an article written for the Stanford Review in 1953. The first two recipients were Norman J. Mittenthal, class of 1916, and James Clarke Berry, class of 1921.

Another recipient, William Webster Hansen of Fresno, was instrumental in early research leading to the development of radar.

By 1953, other Dickey scholarship recipients included seven medical doctors, four attorneys, four serving in the military, three engineers, three professors, two chemists and one high school teacher and coach.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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