In the olden days of Fallbrook: stories told by Rex Reader
Louise (Babs) Reader Somacal
In the olden days of Fallbrook: stories told by Rex Reader
At the age of 19, Edward C. Reader, known as Rex arrived by buck board into Fallbrook in 1896 to apply for a bookkeeping job at the Fallbrook Co-op General Store at the big salary of $45 a month. He landed the job and found lodging at the Naples Hotel managed by Victor Westfall Sr. Later known as Hotel Ellis and owned by William Ellis. The rambling hotel was built in the late 80s for a health resort for TB and Asthmatic patients. Also hunters arrived from the cities to hunt quail, dove etc. Salesmen, teachers, bachelors and spinsters filled the hotel to capacity. Rex and Sam Graffin, owner of the Fallbrook Lumber Yard, told of the wonderful times spent there. In the evening music played by Mr. Berry, the school principal, dancing, card games, checkers and chess were going on in full swing.
Rex was one of four orphans that were brought over from England by their Grandmother to settle in Hemet on an apricot ranch. They lost all they had in two years so each one of the children had to go out and find a job. Rex headed for Los Angeles and worked for the Los Angeles Tribune Paper for a year before coming to Fallbrook.
With only the clothes on his back and a few coins in is pocket he arrived in Fallbrook to stay for the rest of his life until August 1952 when he died at the age of 74.
In 1900 Rex started to buy the Fallis Bros. General Store with the help of William Ellis. The store was then called Fallbrook Merc. Co. In a few years Rex owned the store alone. The Fallbrook Co-op was in the location where Harrison's Pharmacy is now (in 1998 the Art and Cultural Center). The Martin General Store was south of the Fallbrook Hardware and Fallis Bros. Store on the corner of main and Alvarado where the Village Stationers is located. In the 90s Fallbrook had quite a few English families living here and since Rex had come from London, England in 1893 he felt right at home with the Hargreaves, Lundies and Hull families. He never had a lonely Sunday. They went to church, had dinner at one of the ranches and played tennis on their dirt tennis courts in the afternoon. Evening was spent playing games.
Rex, like any other Englishman loved sports, so he got up at 5 a.m. to play tennis before he went to work at 7 in the store.
On Saturday nights after he closed the store at 9 p.m. he would mount his horse and ride 40 miles to Hemet to visit his grandmother. He would arrive about 4 in the morning and visit for the day. Rode back Sunday evening. In time to get to work on Monday morning. One night as he was approaching Rainbow Valley his horse fell asleep and Rex too, and the next thing he found himself dumped by the gate of Knight's ranch. They took him in and gave him something to hold on the bridge of his nose until he arrived in Fallbrook to have a doctor sew him up.
Some Sundays he would ride his big wheel bike to San Luis Rey Valley to visit his sister, Rose, who was married to an Englishman, Ernest Langford, who raised carnation flowers for the commercial bakery.
Charge accounts were done differently in the early 1900s also Grain farming was the main crop and Rex would charge to a farmer for a year at a time. If it was a bad year and the farmer didn't get anything for his crops he would carry him for two or three years. When the crops were good the farmer would come in and settle up his bills.
Rex sold everything from soup to nuts. Brown and white sugar were scooped out of big bins, beans of all types were sold in the bulk, vinegar and kerosene were pumped out of big round barrels. The back room was stacked to the ceiling with 100-pound sacks of grain. Ladies stockings were no problem to sell. They came in two colors, black or brown. Yardage only 10 cents a yard, ladies dresses 75 cents to $1.98, men shoes $1.50 etc. Rex would drive out to Pala and measure the Pala Indians for suits that sold for $12.
One year Rex and the Hargreaves spend a holiday over at Catalina Island and played in tennis tournaments. Rex enjoyed seeing how other stores operated and visited the grocery store on the Island. He asked the owner if he got good fresh eggs for his customers. The owner said he got old eggs from the mainland. Rex made a deal with him that he would ship him fresh eggs every week. After he arrived back in Fallbrook, Rex asked all his customers to bring in all the eggs they had and he shipped from 30 to 40 cases of eggs a week to Catalina Island for several years. One farmer brought in a case of eggs one morning. As he walked in the back door the bottom fell out and 30 dozen eggs were a scrambled mess on the floor. The farmer shouted, "They're your eggs" and expected full pay for the 30 dozen. The story was told of a farmer bringing in his boy for a pair of shoes. After Rex had the right size and everything seem to fit fine, the farmer decided they didn't want the shoes. Rex asked why? The little boy piped up and said, "My Daddy wanted to see what size I wore so he can send to Sears for a pair." Another customer bought a dress, which fit fine, and the lady was real pleased with it. The next day her youngster brought it back and wanted the money back for it. Rex asked why she was returning the dress? The youngster said, "Oh, Mama just wanted to get a pattern off the dress so she could make on like it."
Many trips hauling groceries were made in an old Buick touring car to road camps around the area where new roads were being built. Especially the cement road built going to Oceanside and the building of the San Luis Rey Bridge.
In 1912 two young ladies arrived at the railroad station down by De Luz crossing and came up in Mr. Hawley's surrey to town to visit one's Grandmother, Mrs. Phillips and Aunt, Mrs. Sam Graffin. The young ladies from Chicago were gay young lasses and soon Rex Reader was inviting Josephine Enigenburg to go the opera with him, which was held in the old Odd Fellows Hall. Miss Enigenburg got a job with Martin General Store and in 1915 was the bride of Rex Reader.
Many events happened during the coming years which are too numerous to write about. The Fallbrook Mercantile building was moved in 1927 to the location where Ward's Jewelry later located. In 1953 Mrs. Reader closed out the grocery stock and continued to carry dry goods. The Reader family still operated the oldest store in town, The Fallbrook Mercantile Co.
Rex heard that Safeway was planning to come to Fallbrook in 1927 and that they were looking for someone to build them a building. So Rex went to San Diego and talked to the head man and built the Safeway building to their specifications in 1927 located at 127 N. Main where the Fallbrook Camera Shop later located. That was a big year as the Fallbrook Merc. Building had to be moved from the corner north to 109 and 113 N. Main where Rose's Fabric and Friendly were later located. In fact that building is the original Fallbrook Mercantile Building. Lower to the ground, new flooring, new inside, but the same corrugated walls of the original building. Rex built two more buildings, one on the corner for Keller's Pharmacy and the Safeway. The Fallbrook Mercantile continued in the same building except in different location and more modernized.
Everyone told Rex he was foolish to build for Safeway as he would be out of business in six months, but the store continued until 1953 and then the grocery department was sold out and the dry goods department continued on.
Wages in those days were quite different than now. The Safeway manager received $16 a week and clerks $11 a week. Their hours were sometimes from 6 a.m. until midnight, or in fact, until the work was done for the day. The open fronts were not helpful for air conditioning. There were hot blasts of air in the summer and cold in the winter. Summer was great when they rolled out their fruit counters and the watermelons were stacked on the sidewalk. In the morning and evening the melons were thrown from one clerk to another and once in a while one would crash to the pavement and everyone would have watermelon.
Then the 1929 crash came and the thirties were meager years. The Fallbrook Mercantile struggled along like the rest of the stores. C.E. Lamb's store was in business at the southwest corner of Main and Alvarado, Westfall's Fallbrook Hardware was on the opposite corner and the First National Bank on the northwest corner. Also the Corner Store was open seven days a week run by Ma and Pop Insel where the building is across street north of the Standard Oil Station. The Huscher Market was at the old Ben Franklin location.
Many changes took place in 1941. World War II and the Naval Ammunition Depot and Camp Pendleton were being built. Also Safeway was building a new and larger building next to the Standard Oil Station. Another move for the FB Merc. Into the former Safeway building. Rex remodeled the building and had all new fixtures installed for his grocery department. The dry goods were left in part of the old store and then he rented the space from which the grocery department moved out of. The stores had closed glass fronts now so it was much easier to keep everything clean and warm in the winter.
The forties were busy years. Many new people, many new stores, and lots of work for the Readers and everyone else in the Village. One Christmas week during the war years the Readers dry goods department was so busy gift wrapping for the Navy boys from the Weapons Station, the Readers didn't eat their Christmas dinner until several days after Christmas.
Many changes came about in the late 30s and the 40s such as business being sold to new comers. Keller's Pharmacy sold to Harrisons, Bank of American took over First National Bank, the only bank in town, a theater, for the first time, a small bowling alley, post office moved. This was a tremendous change for the Villagers to accept. Oh, yes, Jo and Rex's daughter, Babs married in 1944 to Geno Somacal.
Many events happened for the Readers during their 37 years of marriage. Mr. William Ellis sold Rex a lot for a house from the Hotel block at the corner of Hill (now Mission) and Alvarado, now the parking lot for the new County Library. Rex and Jo's daughter, known as Babs was born in the house in1917 and worked in the store as soon as she could count.
During their busy lives in the Fallbrook Mercantile the Readers were active in many of the activities in Fallbrook. Rex served on the water board, trying to get water from the Santa Margarita River in the early 1900s.
Rex loved to play golf and had a wonderful time playing at Rancho Santa Fe twice a week with his friends and family. This was the nearest course to Fallbrook and the only one in Northern San Diego County. Rex would often say, "When I have to die I hope it is on the golf course." And it almost happened. He missed it by a few days. Rex passed away Aug. 19, 1952 at the age of 74.
The grocery store continued one more year and then phased out. Jo moved the dry goods into the store where the groceries were. In the 60s Fallbrook Camera Shop wanted the store that Fallbrook Merc. Was in, so the businesses traded stores. Fallbrook Merc. Was back in the original building once again.
After five and a half years of ill health, Jo died July 14, 1970 at the age of 83.
The Fallbrook Mercantile store was closed May 1969, by Babs who had worked for 35 years and thought it time for a change. Working and waiting on Fallbrook Friends had made a very happy life for Rex, Jo and Babs.
Louise (Babs) Reader Somacal
Louise (Babs) Reader Somacal has a lot of history in Fallbrook. She was born here in 1917 and graduated from Fallbrook High. She has lived within the same few blocks since birth.
"She is kind and loving," says Janice Murrah, a close friend for many years. "Babs has a kind heart and is a good listener. Her biggest philosophy is to 'let go and let God.' Neither she nor her late husband Geno ever complained about anything."
Babs is the longest standing member of her church, St. John's Episcopal. She also has worked tirelessly at St. John's Thrift Shop. One of her friends commented, "She really has unconditional love for people."
Babs married Geno Somacal. Geno's mother moved to the United States from Italy and settled in Fallbrook in 1911. Geno eventually took a job on the Pratt Ranch Dairy and worked there until he retired, even though it had been taken over by the Fallbrook Sanitary District.
Babs tells the story of she and Geno's honeymoon. They drove until they used all their gas tickets (tickets were issued because of rationing during the war). They reached Idyllwild and then hiked to the top of San Jacinto. Then they had to wait until their relatives sent them more gas tickets to get home. In their years together they traveled to many countries and loved to hike.
She had a helpful marriage tip. She and Geno practiced the three C's: Never criticize, never contradict and never correct.
Babs and Geno's daughter Joanne Stretton says, "Babs is a wonderful mom and she's always there when I need her."
Joanne is married to Bill Stretton who has lived in Fallbrook since the fifties. She and Bill have raised their four boys here and their three grandchildren go to Fallbrook schools.
When asked about her childhood Joanne says she has happy memories with Babs and Geno. "We had great trips. Once we went on a trip to New York and saw Niagara Falls, Chicago, Washington, DC. It was a great time.
The Somacals also have been well known in the community for an intricate train system and replica of Fallbrook in their garage. Geno spent thousands of hours crafting buildings such as the Ellis Hotel and the Fallbrook Train Depot. There are even little people in the buildings crafted by a friend.
Thousands of school children over the years came through to watch the trains and learn a little history.
Babs always has been a member of the Fallbrook Camera Club longer than she can remember and is a wonderful photographer.
The description thread that seemed to tie every quote and every story together is the fact that whatever church or community service Babs and Geno are or were involved in, they never brought attention to themselves.
The Reader-Somacal families are what make Fallbrook special.
Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History
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Last update: 29 January 1999.