Roth Bros. Groceries

February 16, 2010

Then: Brothers Fred, second from left, and Henry Roth built their grocery store in 1920 at 723 G St. in Fresno. The store was the era\'s version of a supermarket.

This was the supermarket of yesteryear, built in 1920 by brothers Fred and Henry Roth at 723 G St. in Fresno’s Chinatown — Roth Bros. Groceries.

The Roths were Germans from Russia who arrived in Fresno as small children in 1902. They started their grocery business during a period of post-World War I prosperity and modernization, when Fresno was transformed from mainly an agriculture-based city to an important urban center.

In the mid-1920s, the Valley was hit with plummeting raisin prices, giving Fresnans a glimpse of what was to come in the Great Depression.

Fresno was hit hard by the Depression. Compounding the economic disaster was the Dust Bowl, which left more than a half million people homeless.

In Fresno, the needy lined up in bread lines and at soup kitchens, with relief agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Community Chest working to help.

Surviving local businesses also stepped up to help hungry families, including Roth Brothers Groceries.

In the Sept. 6, 1970, Fresno Bee, Henry Roth Jr. remembered how his father and uncle helped people survive: During the Depression when you had to fight just to live, people had no money. Dad had groceries and they would come in to trade various articles for food.

“Sometimes they didn’t have anything and Dad would give them groceries anyway. He was a great guy, my father.”

The Depression led Henry Roth into a new business. Because of the accumulation of household goods — pots and pans, furniture, antiques — that patrons traded for food, Roth closed the grocery business and reopened it as a second-hand shop.

He ran the second-hand store until the 1940s, when Henry Roth Jr. took over the shop and began a chemical business, Roth Disenfectant Co. at 723 G St., which he ran until the 1970s.

A fire destroyed all but the front wall of the building in the 1980s.

John Walker / The Fresno Bee

Now: The front wall of the Roth Bros. Groceries store, for many years the only remaining part of the building, collapsed recently.