I AM: Sidney Harden Sr.

Sidney Harden Sr.’s grocery store was a mainstay in the Black Community for decades. 

By Gwendolyn Reese

Sidney Harden, Sr. came to St. Petersburg with his wife and family in 1926. He was industrious and an entrepreneur. Before opening his grocery store, he owned a cab. It was a Chrysler with a slogan on the side that read: “If you want to go to town and don’t want to be late, catch Sidney Harden and his Chrysler Eight.”

By 1939 or 1940, he’d saved enough money to open Harden’s grocery store in the north half of a building on the corner of 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue South. The building, then owned by George Washington, is one of 11 buildings in the Midtown area with historic designations.

The store was usually open seven days a week from 5 a.m. to midnight and provided foods preferred by the neighborhood residents. Children could buy chocolate chip cookies, two for a penny, and adults could buy snuff and Prince Albert tobacco in the can. Canned goods, staples, fresh meat, raw peanuts, and even kerosene could be purchased at Harden’s grocery.

The store also specialized in ethnic foods such as chitterlings, hog’s head cheese, whole hog heads, and even more exotic meats such as opossum, raccoons, rabbits, and gophers. He raised chickens behind the store, and research shows that Harden and his butcher, James Nelson, applied for a license to raise opossums.

Harden is still remembered for his generosity. When residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the store were unemployed or simply “short on cash,” he would allow them to get food “on the books.” Individuals who hung around the store were frequently put to work, shelling peas or pecans, and were paid with food and a few quarters.

Gwendolyn Reese, “I AM”

Although Mr. Harden had very little formal education, and it’s said that he could barely read or write, he could count money and read the scales. In 1945, he built a concrete block residence on Melrose Avenue, and by the time of his death in 1969, he is said to have owned at least 12 properties in St. Petersburg.

“St. Petersburg’s Historic 22nd Street South” by Rosalie Peck and Jon Wilson and from Betty Harden, granddaughter of Sidney Harden, Sr.

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