Luigi Bernardini and the Boston Shoe Store

Main Street in the 1950s

Six years ago when the Boston Shoe Store closed we did an article on the history of the store, shown above in the 1950s when the wooden block from the corner of Monroe Street to the Angelholm, then Williamson’s Fish Market, did not contain even one empty storefront. By our calculations the Boston Shoe Store opened its doors about 1885 although it was not always operated by the Bernardini family and it was not originally on the corner of Monroe Street. Recently the block was sold and we don’t know what the owner’s plans may be for this last remaining block of wooden buildings in the city.

The block was built about 1880 and was unusual construction for its time. After the great fire of 1871 consumed most of the wooden buildings in the Calais business district, commercial buildings were constructed almost entirely of brick which is why Calais Main Street is a nearly solid line of brick buildings from the JD Thomas building at the corner of Church and Main to the southwest corner of Main and Monroe.  What became known as the “Bernardini Block” for a century is an exception.

Luigi Bernardini’s Fruit and Confectionery, Boston Shoe Store

The above photo was taken about 1900. The Boston Shoe Store was then owned and operated by Willard Foster and was located in the middle of the block. Luigi Bernardini, the patriarch of the Bernardini family, can be seen standing on the sidewalk in front of his fruit store, the Boston Branch of L. Bernardini and Co. 

Luigi and Mary Bernardini, year unknown. Photo found on Ancestry. Com

Luigi came to America from Italy in 1882 through the Port of New York, he was 17. It appears he lived for several years in the Washington D.C. where he met his future wife, Mary Brizzolari. We know he moved to this area in the mid 1890’s because on February 1st, 1895 he became an American citizen at Bangor where he swore under oath to “renounce and abjure any allegiance to the King of Italy.” In 1896 his fruit market on Main Street is listed in the Calais business directory. At the time he was 27 years old, single and rented a portion of the block of wooden buildings shown above. Luigi was one of several Italians who settled in Calais during this period and opened fruit and confectionery stores. Others were Checchi, Dimitri and Tori. In fact most of the merchants who opened businesses on Main Street and built the brick blocks during the first part of the 20th century were immigrants, including the Unobskeys and Olssons.

Like most immigrants of that era, he soon became a respected and valued member of the community. It didn’t hurt that somewhere in his early life he had become an accomplished marksman, an important skill Downeast at the time.

On  September 20, 1901 the Bangor Daily reported:

 “Louis Bernardini was the winner of the prize cup of the Eaton Rifle Club. Under exceedingly unfavorable weather conditions, he made 120 points out of a possible 125 at 200 and 500 yards.”

The Eaton Rifle Club was a prestigious social organization in those years and winning the “prize cup” was quite an achievement for a fellow reasonably new to the community. As was common Luigi Bernardini had now become Louis Bernardini.

The Ferry Point Band welcomed Mary and Louie Bernardini to Calais after their wedding in Washington DC

In late 1900 Louis traveled to Washington DC and returned with a bride, Mary Bizzolari of Washington DC. The couple arrived on the evening train from Bangor with great fanfare. The Ferry Point Band entertained the newly married couple and guests at his home which we believed was then in the back of his fruit store on Main Street where he and his family lived until, many years later, he acquired the entire block and the homes on Monroe Street.

November 27 1900 Bangor Daily News

Louis Bernardini arrived home on the Friday evening train, accompanied by his bride. The Ferry Point band boys gave him a serenade on arrival at his home, and he banqueted them in a royal manner. Cigars and refreshments of different kinds were enjoyed.

Children soon arrived, the first was Frederick about 1904, followed at short intervals by Charles, Mary Alva and Catherine. In the 1930 census Louis was 61, Mary 50, Fred 26, Charles 24, Mary 22, Alva 19 and Catherine 18. All were living on Monroe Street in Calais.

1909 Calais Centennial Celebration

Between 1900 and 1906 the Boston Shoe Store moved to the corner of Monroe Street but Louis, or Louie as he was called by his friends, did not own the store. He continued to operate the fruit store down the block. He can be seen above to the far right in the doorway of the Boston Branch of L.Bernardini Co. Next door is the Boston Clothing Store which was in competition with Abe Levy’s Boston Store in the next block and Unobskey’s New York Store down the block where the State Theatre was eventually built. It was fashionable at the time to be selling only the latest styles and products which came, of course, from Boston and New York. The fellow standing in front of the Boston Shoe Store is probably Willard Foster who was the owner or manager of the store until at least 1912.  

Those early years of business did not always go smoothly. From 1896 when he opened the fruit and confectionery business on Main Street until 1906 the firm of L. Bernardini and Company had two partners, Louis and Charles Carrara. On September 26, 1906 a dispute arose between the partners. The Calais Advertiser reported:

Business troubles between the members of the firm of L. Bernardini and Co. this morning resulted in a combat between Chas. Carrara and Louis Bernardini, during which the former is alleged to have received a blow on the head from an iron weight. Carrara’s head was badly cut and necessitated the services of a physician to repair the damage.

Carrara relocated to St. Stephen and in 1908 opened a competing fruit and confectionery business but neither the assault nor the competition between the two seems to have damaged their friendship. In 1914 they partnered again to open the Palace Theatre on Main Street in Calais.

We think the fellow in the middle is Louie Bernardini standing in front of the Boston Shoe Store

We believe it was about 1920 when Louie purchased a portion of the block, including his store and probably the homes in back of the store on Monroe Street. In 1934 the Bangor Daily News reported that Louie had purchased the Boston Shoe Store which completed his control over the entire block.

Louie’s store is under the canopy

The businesses between the Boston Store and Louie’s Fruit Market, under the canopy above, came and went on a fairly regular basis but the Boston Shoe Store and Bernardini’s Fruit and Confectionery anchored the block for many decades  

When prohibition was repealed in 1934, Louie closed the fruit store and opened a beer hall perhaps because it was more profitable. It was certainly more exciting and Calais was not long making up for a century of thirst. Beer halls flourished as sales of hard liquor were not yet legal in Maine. On November 4, 1936 Leo Skidds, a local boy chiefly known for stealing cars, slid into a booth at Bernadini’s and  put two pints of  whiskey, still illegal in Maine, on the table. It was not the first whiskey Leo had been friendly with that day. Waiter Roy Moffitt hustled the drunken, angry Skidds and his whiskey out the back door. Sadly, Skidds was still sober enough to find his way back to the front door and, pushing aside Mrs. Bernardini who had attempted to block his entrance, resumed his place in the booth. Louie approached Skidds and was told “Keep away from me, Louis, if you don’t want a bullet.’’ All may have been well had not Roy Moffitt chosen this moment to walk by the table. Skidds, still bearing a grudge against Moffitt, came up shooting. His revolver misfired twice before patron William Tracy managed to hit Skidds’ gun hand just as the third shot was fired striking Moffitt in the groin, passing through his body and out his back. Moffitt was operated on by Dr. Miner and lived and the authorities carted Skidds off to the county jail in Machias where, not surprisingly, no one would go his bail on the attempted murder charge. You can be sure the temperance folks were saying “I told you so.” At the next term Superior Court he was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to five years in jail.

It may have been this incident that convinced Louie to abandon the bar business and reopen the store which in later years sold his famous peanuts.

Life was not without its sorrows for the Bernardini family. Fred, the oldest son and very popular locally, was killed in a freak accident on Pocomoonshine Lake in early 1936.


 Was Hit By Auto On Lake While Ice-Fishing

 (Special to The Bangor Daily News) CALAIS, Jan. 13, 1936

 Fred Bernardini, 28, prominent young business man died this afternoon in the Chipman hospital, where he was taken after being struck by an automobile Sunday afternoon while ice fishing on Pocomoonshine Lake. Bernardini, his brother, Charles and two sisters, Alva and Katherine and Fred Mitchell were fishing and had a number of lines set. Charles, accompanied by his sisters, had been driving the car about the lake, seeing one of the flags go up, he started for the spot in the car. Fred, who was standing near the signal started on foot toward the line, Fred and the car arrived at a point near the signal at the same time, unable to stop on the ice, he slid directly In front of the machine and was struck a terrific blow by the front of the car. The lake is about fifteen miles from this city and the injured man was brought to the Chipman hospital where examination revealed a fractured skull, broken ribs and a compound fracture of the leg. He regained consciousness momentarily and spoke to his mother early in the evening. County Medical Examiner, Dr. Willard H. Bunker viewed the body and pronounced death due to internal Injuries, no inquest will be held. He was associated with his father, Louis Bernardini, in business here, was prominent in athletics, being manager of a local ball team. He was an active Democrat and a member of the Knights of Columbus. He is survived by his parents, one brother and three sisters.

The Advertiser began its obituary by noting “no death in recent years has caused more genuine and widespread regret than that of Fred Bernardini.” Only six years later Louie’s wife Mary died and in 1953 their other son, Charles died at the age of 48.

1959 Boston Shoe Store

The Boston Shoe Store Block did not change much over the years as can be seen in this 1950’s photo which also shows Hill’s Bowlodrome on Monroe Street, a hangout for the boomer generation. Down the block are Sears, a grocery and store in what had been the  fruit market. Casey’s Barber Shop and Ryan’s Bookstore occupied the storefronts in between the two for many years.

1964 Louis Bernardini’s 95th birthday

Louis lived only another year but the Boston Shoe Store and other businesses in the block, some family owned, continued in operation for several decades.

In more recent times Boston Shoe expanded and began carrying a larger line of shoes and athletic apparel.   Other stores fill the block.  Main Street was once a vibrant and even an exciting place especially on weekends, a place to meet friends, bowl, eat, go to the movies or just hang out. Its stores carried everything a family needed and more.  Hopefully the new owners of the block will see to its revival.

We’ll close with our favorite Boston Shoe Store photo.

We wonder if the boy was a Bernardini.

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