History of Stephens' Store
By Ellen Finley, 1988
Richard Stephens, about 1912
The northwest corner of Main and Central, now the location of the new Segovia’s Fillmore Market, is one of Fillmore’s most historic sites.
Before the city was recorded in Ventura in 1888, one of the oldest of its few buildings stood on this corner, a large two-story rooming house operated by E. Bailey Turner. Since Turner was Fillmore’s first postmaster his building also housed the first post office, a front bedroom in the rooming house
By 1898, Turner’s two-story building had been replaced by a one-story tin structure where Richard Stephens operated a general merchandise store. He soon purchased the entire corner property and in 1910 constructed a new building which still stands. Since that time, a period of 78 years, this building has been in continuous operation as a general store or a combination grocery and meat market.
Richard Stephens was one of Fillmore’s leading pioneers and an outstanding citizen. Born in Glasgow, Scotland on August 31, 1870, he left his native land in his early 20’s. After a year on a ranch near Hollywood, he came to Fillmore on April 6, 1895. His first job was that of a clerk in the general merchandise store of a fellow countryman, James Duncan, who conducted business at the northeast corner of Main and Central in the store built by C. C. Elkins in 1888. Popular with customers from the start Stephens soon acquired an interest in the business, becoming a partner in 1898. When Duncan died on November 17 of that year, Stephens became sole owner of the business. He was also appointed Fillmore’s sixth postmaster, ironically on the same day that Duncan died.
About this time, C. C. Elkins sold his store to C. A. Harmonson (2020 note – C. A.’s name was either Columbus Arizona or Columbus Augustus, little wonder he went by his initials). Duncan and Stephens moved across the street to the northwest corner, taking the post office with them. After Duncan’s death, the store was known as “Richard Stephens – The Post Office Store.” Just north on Central Avenue there was a large packing house. Stephens had long recognized that Fillmore needed a hall in which to hold meetings and entertainment, so he took over the packing house in the evenings. Stephens’s Hall, as it became to be called, used rows of packing boxes as seats. There was a stage about three feet high with a corner walled off at each side for dressing rooms. One popular early-day entertainer was Charles Heatherly who gave serious, humorous, and dialect recitations, with music by Arthur Sallee, pianist. Admission was 25 cents, with children 15 cents and reserved seats 35 cents. Dances were held frequently on Saturday nights – admission $1. When a traveling theatrical company came from a one-night stand in Santa Paul, the Fillmore Herald declared with obvious sincerity: “Fillmore is becoming more like New York City every day.”
1909 Ticket to dance at Stephens' Hall
Stephens Store about 1907 with "Stephens' Hall" behind
In the years before Stephen built his new store, the old-time lock boxes for the patrons of the post office were located on the outside of the building. The arrival of the mail was an exciting event. Rain or shine, everyone gathered outside the store to get their mail and exchange the latest news with their neighbors. On September27, 1907, the big topic of discussion was the electric light Stephens had strung across Central Avenue from his store to the store of Harmonson and Rood. This was Fillmore’s very first street lighting. Stephens’ new building, which opened on March 12, 1910, was a one-story structure of stucco over brick, designed mission-style and built by contractor J. C. Blair. The post office was separate from the store with its own entrance as well as an entrance from the store. Over the outside entrance to the post office, a flagpole was erected. This flagpole remains in place today (1988), though it is no longer in use. In addition to the post office, this modern store offered general merchandise, a meat market, a public telephone, and a small jewelry store run by John Lawton. A six-foot cement sidewalk, one of the first in downtown Fillmore, was put in at the new building. At the store’s corner entrance, which faced both Main and Central, the sidewalk at the threshold featured the owner’s name set in green and white tiles. The tiled name remains in place to this day (2020 – it is still in place).
Farmers and Merchants Bank, from Fillmore Daily Sun, August 19, 1919
Like most of the early businessmen of Fillmore, Richard Stephens was deeply involved in the affairs of the community. He was one of the organizers and a director of the Fillmore State Bank until 1913 when, with others, he organized the Fillmore Branch of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Santa Paula. After that institution was consolidated with the Pacific-Southwest Trust and Savings, Stephens became vice president of the Fillmore branch. In addition to many other interests, he owned several extensive citrus ranches He and his wife Stella, whom he married in San Diego on Christmas Day in 1903, were members of a group instrumental in bringing the Trinity Episcopal Church building from the Bard Estate in Port Hueneme in 1933, to land donated by Stephens.
Trinity Episcopal Church c 1940
Perhaps because they had no children of their own, Richard and Stella Stephens were most generous to the children of Fillmore. Each Halloween they opened their lovely home at 554 Central Avenue to the children of the community. Each Christmas they were hosts to all the children at a special picture show at the local theatre where the small guests were given treats and gifts.
From Piru News, December 25, 1930
Becoming increasingly occupied with his many interests, Richard Stephens sold his business in 1911 to W. G. Cornelius and C. W. Harthorn, though he retained ownership of the building and property for the rest of his life. At his death in 1951, the ownership was inherited by his niece, Marguerite Shuford.
Cash Commercial, c 1911
From 1911 to 1927, the store on the northwest corner of Main and Central was operated under the name of Cash Commercial Company. The post office remained, Postmaster Stephens was assisted by his wife, Stella, and by Nell Ward Crippen. When Stephens retired in 1915, after 16 years of service, Phil Roche was appointed postmaster. At that time, the interior of Cash Commercial Company was renovated extensively. The post office was moved to a temporary site where Central Market is today. Then, in December 1917, the government flag flew over the new location of the post office, Phil Roche’s jewelry store on the east side of Central.
On November 11, 1927, C. W. Harthorn announced in the Fillmore Herald that Cash Commercial Company was going out of business. Harthorn, with his sons, C. Leon and Clarence E., were to open a new store to be called by the family name. On December 9, 1927 on the east side of Central where Patterson’s Hardware and the Fillmore Flower Shop are now (1988), the recently constructed Harthorn – Hickey Building opened for business. The Harthorn Grocery and Coleman’s Meat Market occupied the space which is now the Fillmore Flower Shop; Hickey operated a hardware store in the space now occupied by Patterson’s.
The former Cash Commercial Company store was remodeled and on December 24, 1927, Safeway celebrated its grand opening there.
The grocery department was managed by Earl Colt, new to the area; the meat department was managed by A. E. Gray, well known to area shoppers. Eventually, as Fillmore continued to expand, Safeway needed more store space and parking space. The Safeway organization decided to build a new store on property owned by Jim Shiells on Central just north of Sespe. The building contract was awarded to Charles Busclen of Hollywood. On November 8, 1939, Safeway officially opened its new modern store at 411 Central, featuring the latest equipment and plenty of parking space (2020 – Roan Bakery location). A. E. Gray was the local manager.
For a brief time, Stephen’s building at the northwest corner of Main and Central remained idle. Then it was remodeled by Carim and Nazira Rihbany who had operated the Fillmore Market at 324 Central Avenue for six years. On September 5, 1941, the Rihbanys announced the grand opening of their Fillmore Market at its new location, 317 Central. Their phone number remained the same – 337- and, as always, they offered free delivery. Their new store featured the most modern equipment with two cash registers in the center of the store to speed service. Ralph Stanley was the manager, assisted by Earl Whitlow and Joe Baleu. The checker was J. C. Poindexter.
During World War II, Ralph Stanley left Fillmore for service overseas. At this time, A. E. Gray, formerly with Safeway, purchased the grocery part of the business from Rihbany. Later, when Stanley returned from service, he bought the business from Gray and operated the Fillmore Market with two partners, David Hopkins and Bob Elder. In the 1960’s Les Hancock bought out Hopkins and Elder.
After the death of Ralph Stanley in 1964, his widow sold the business to Dick and Betty Hood. After about a year the Hoods bought out Les Hancock. About ten years later the Hoods sold to Larry and Bobbie Howard.
In the latter part of 1979, Bill Austen purchased the business and, in 1983, bought the building and property from Marguerite Shuford, marking the end of 73 years of ownership by the Stephens’ family. Austin brought the old store up to modern standards, installing refrigerated cases for meats, dairy products and frozen foods. In December 1985, Austin sold the business to Rick and Debbie Kauth who operated it for about a year.
It’s interesting to note that two young local men who got their start at the Fillmore Market have recently opened a market called Richard’s at the corner of Main and Mountain View. The owner, Richard Gonzalez, worked at Bill Austin’s Fillmore Market from June 1984 to December 1985. His store manager, Victoi Almazan, worked at the Fillmore Market from 1976 to December 1985 under Dick Hood, the Howards, and Bill Austin.
In December 1986, the Fillmore Market was purchased by Dick and Marilyn Rogers who owned the Village Market at 1055 Ventura Street, and by Jesse Segovia, manager of the Village Market. Segovia, born in Texas, had come with his family to Santa Paula where he had to quit school to work as a farm laborer. At the age of 18, he started work as a clerk at the Ventura County Market in Santa Paula. Years of determined effort paid off when, in 1984, Segovia became the manager of the Village Market in Fillmore.
During 1987, Segovia continued to manage the original Village Market as well as the store at the corner of Main and Central, renamed the Downton Village Market. Aided by his wife Alice, his brothers Ruben and Gilbert, and his sons Steve and David, Jesse Segovia was able to buy out his partners in just one year. On December 31, 1987, the Segovias became the owners of the Downtown Village Market. Very proud of their store’s long history, the new owners, just in time for Fillmore’s Centennial Celebration on Sunday, July 31, 1988, announced that their store was to be called “Segovia’s Fillmore Market” – returning to the historic name it had been called since 1941.
In this Centennial year it is appropriate to call attention to Fillmore’s past. Much of that past is vanished now, remembered only by words and pictures. But some of the past is still with us today, a part of our everyday lives. Nowhere is there a better example of this blending of past and present than the Fillmore Market. Richard Stephen’s old store, still serving the people of Fillmore as it has since 1910. Next time you pass that historic northwest corner of Main and Central, look down to see the green and white tiles spelling out the name “Stephens”. Then look up to see the flagpole high over the old post office entrance. Part of Fillmore’s past is still part of Fillmore’s present.