E.H. Thompson Co., a ‘landmark’ store – January 2015 Business History

The staff of E.H. Thompson Store, Watertown, is ready to wait on customers during "Ketchup Week" in 1917. Each week, Thompson's featured one item to entice customers to shop. The previous week, the store had "magnificent oranges on sale for 25 cents." || Photo from "Images of America: Watertown" by Donna M. Dutton

The staff of E.H. Thompson Store, Watertown, is ready to wait on customers during “Ketchup Week” in 1917. Each week, Thompson’s featured one item to entice customers to shop. The previous week, the store had “magnificent oranges on sale for 25 cents.” || Photo from “Images of America: Watertown” by Donna M. Dutton

If Edward Hulbert Thompson had possessed better eyesight, the history of the grocery industry in Watertown would have been a completely different landscape.

Mr. Thompson, the founder of E. H. Thompson & Company, moved to Watertown in 1859 at the age of 23, after he had to abandon his first passion of portrait painting due to “defective eyesight,” according to a Watertown Daily Times article from February 1919. Once he got settled in the city, he entered into a partnership with J. B. Tyler that lasted seven years. Mr. Thompson had barely any money of his own to invest, starting into business with Mr. Tyler with only $1,200 of borrowed capital.

The partnership opened for business in October 1859, with Mr. Tyler’s feed business on one side of the building at 59 Washington Hall building, and Mr. Thompson’s grocery on the other, according to a Watertown Daily Times article from 1943. The original name of Mr. Thompson’s store was ‘The Sign of the Live Yankee,’ and his company became known as E. H. Thompson & Company.

During the initial years, the company did large wholesale and retail business in maple sugar and syrup, along with the regular line of groceries, shipping to nearly every state in the nation, according to a Watertown Daily Times article from December 1919.

In 1866, Mr. Thompson purchased his partner’s interest and Mr. Tyler retired. Mr. Thompson then ran the company on his own until 1892, when he began a partnership with two of his clerks, J. W. Van Camp and L. J. McDonald.

This marked the expansion of the company was well. As reported in a Times article from that year, the company bought the store of Charles A. Hungerford. E. H. Thompson & Company then moved their store into Mr. Hungerford’s old space, using the adjoining store as well, which had previously been Charles E. Palmiter’s jewelry store. Mr. Palmiter then moved to E. H. Thompson & Company’s previous location. The exact addresses of these stores are not listed. According to the article, this arrangement was carried out mostly by Messrs. Van Camp and McDonald, as Mr. Thompson had been confined to his home by illness.

In 1898, Mr. Thompson sold his interest to his partners and retired from active business.

The two partners ran the business together until May of 1901, when it was announced Mr. Van Camp would retire after nearly a quarter century in the grocery business. It was reported by the Times that Mr. McDonald consented to the dissolution of the firm and became the sole proprietor.

The company switched hands again in 1908, this time back to Mr. Van Camp. After the death of Mr. McDonald, Mr. Van Camp came back to the business, this time taking sole control of the company. He later added his sons, Charles and Edward, into his partnership.

In 1913, the store moved to 200-202 Franklin St. in the Solar building to make way for the Y.M.C.A. building in Washington Hall.

The original owner, Mr. Thompson, passed away in February 1919, and the name of the company was changed to E. H. Thompson Company. According to the Times obituary honoring his life, he was “one of the pioneer grocery merchants.” After he had retired, he continued to live at his home on Winthrop Street, and brought his focus back to portrait painting. He left no immediate relatives after his death. When the Times article was published in 1919, the staff of E.H. Thompson Company was comprised of large corps of clerks and up until shortly before that time, the company was known for having one of the largest delivery organizations in Northern New York.

The eventual demise of E. H. Thompson Company came in late 1943, when Charles Van Camp was president. At this time, the store employed six people, a small number compared to the upwards of 14 people the company had employed in the past. A Watertown Daily Times piece from December of that year reported that Mr. Van Camp announced the closing was due to war conditions. The article reads that “among its problems have been the inability to purchase stock and to make deliveries, a policy of long-standing.” The store – named by the Times as “a landmark … [which] has written a long and valuable interesting chapter in the business life of the community” – had been open in one form or another for over 84 years.


By Lorna Oppedisano, NNY Magazines staff writer

Calendar – January 2015

Community/Business Calendar

[Read more…]

People on the move – January 2015

SLU names university communications VP

Melissa Richards

Melissa Richards

Melissa F. Richards has been named vice president for university communications at St. Lawrence University. She plans to begin her duties on Jan. 28. Ms. Richards is replacing Tom Evelyn, who left in May to become the associate vice president for strategic communications and marketing at the University of Florida

Ms. Richards most recently served as the assistant vice president for marketing and publications at Virginia Tech. She was first hired at Virginia Tech as the director of marketing and strategic communications in 2009, before being promoted in July 2010 to the assistant vice president position. Before working at Virginia Tech, Ms. Richards managed public relations at several technology and global software companies for 10 years.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Ms. Richards is completing a master of public administration degree at Virginia Tech this month. She will be joined in Canton by her husband and two daughters. [Read more…]

Business Briefcase – January 2015

Victims Assistance Center receives donation

Sylvia-Firlik-Buckingham, left, presents Jill L. Parker, executive director of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, with $1,732 donation on behalf of the Laureate lota chapter of Beta Sigma Phi.

Sylvia-Firlik-Buckingham, left, presents Jill L. Parker, executive director of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, with $1,732 donation on behalf of the Laureate lota chapter of Beta Sigma Phi.

Laureate lota chapter of Beta Sigma Phi held its 30th annual craft fair at the Dulles State Office Building with the Victims Assistance Center, receiving the proceeds of $1,732.

Beta Sigma Phi is an international organization of women interested in local service and social activities. The organization has five chapters with approximately 60 members in Watertown. For more information on Beta Sigma Phi, contact city council president, Kim Rodriguez, at 489-9855, or Sylvia-Firlik-Buckingham at 783-7833 or sjbfifty@gmail.com. [Read more…]

Rags ‘n Reads – Small Biz Startup January 2015

Photo by Amanda Morrison | NNY Business

“The biggest thing is getting people here and learning what we’re all about. … Positive thinking for a power-filled life.” – Luanne E. Rowsam, co-owner, Rags ‘n Reads, Adams || Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business


After working with children for more than two decades, LuAnne E. Rowsam knew she wanted a change.

“I did daycare for over 20 years, and then I was ready for something else,” she said.

Mrs. Rowsam is now co-owner of Rags ‘n Reads with her husband, Ronald J. Rowsam. When she was a girl, Mrs. Rowsam spent a lot of time around her mother’s retail store, Home Sweet Home, in Alexandria Bay, and she’s always had a huge passion for children’s books. Mrs. Rowsam had always dreamed of owning her own bookstore.

So when she had the urge for a career change, she began to consider her options and came to an easy conclusion: “Of course, the books were my passion. And what could we sell besides books? Of course, clothing!” [Read more…]

2014 Class of 20 Under 40



This year’s class of 20 Under 40 (click the recipient’s name to watch a video and read his or her profile):



An architect, a director of business development, communication professionals, a national sales and marketing manager, an educator, a financial planner, health care professionals, an information technology specialist, a transportation center director, a director of human resources, a loan officer, a pair of camp leaders, a director of operations and a few small business owners.

Our fourth annual 20 Under 40 class was the most competitive field yet, and these individuals represent a snapshot of Northern New York’s most accomplished, dedicated and involved young professionals, across a wide spectrum of industries, and across three counties.

All of these young men and women are involved in some shape or form in their community, whether by serving on an organization’s board, being a foster parent, serving in a youth leadership organization, or something as simple as helping to organize community 5K runs or making time to donate to food banks.

All of these leaders, who are between the ages of 22 and 39, were chosen not only by the editors and staff of NNY Business magazine, but by virtue of glowing recommendations from their peers and employers. And not only do these emerging leaders, who embody the prized north country values of compassion, hard work and selflessness, make time in hectic schedules to volunteer in the community, they give their very best in challenging career fields each and day, all out of an effort to make the place they have chosen to stay in and call home the very best place it can be.

Jill C. Winters, 35: New York Power Authority


Jill C. Winters says there’s no place like home. [Read more…]

David A. Winters, 36: Watertown Audiology


When you talk to David A. Winters, it only takes a few minutes to discover how important it is to him to be involved. Whether it’s his community, family or his own health, Mr. Winters fully commits to anything and everything he does. [Read more…]

Lucas Wachob, 26 & Rebekah Wachob, 24: Aldersgate Camp & Retreat Center


Lucas and Rebekah Wachob are no longer “working for the weekend.” [Read more…]

Robert M. Sligar, 29: Carthage Federal Savings & Loan Association


If there was a “Who’s Who” for service with Carthage-area organizations and civic groups, you would undoubtedly see the name Robert M. Sligar. [Read more…]