Located at 226 Pitkin Avenue in Grand Junction, Stranges Grocery is a two-story commercial building that housed one of four Italian groceries in the early twentieth century. Built in 1909 by local stonemason Nunzio Grasso, the grocery was owned and operated by Italian immigrant Carl Stranges and his family until the 1960s. After being threatened by a road reconfiguration and named as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places in 2001, Stranges Grocery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Grand Junction’s Little Italy
As immigration from Italy to the United States surged between 1880 and 1920, Little Italys—neighborhoods full of Italian residents and businesses—took shape in cities across the country. Many Italian immigrants found work on the railroads, so their neighborhoods often took shape near rail yards. That was the case in Grand Junction, where a Little Italy formed in the 1890s near the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad station in the southwestern corner of the city. Grand Junction’s Little Italy, which was largely made up of immigrants from Calabria in southern Italy, eventually encompassed about two dozen blocks.
In 1909, Carl Stranges opened Stranges Grocery on Pitkin Avenue, not far from the train station. Stranges had come to the United States from Italy in the 1880s, when he was about twenty years old. The building where he opened his grocery was built by another Italian immigrant, Nunzio Grasso, a noted local stonemason. Grasso built the store out of rusticated sandstone from the Book Cliffs. The two-story building was a combination of Italianate and Romanesque Revival styles, with three rounded stone arches across the front of the main level and two rectangular windows on the second level above the outer arches.
Inside, the building’s first floor had two rooms, a larger front room for the grocery store and a smaller back room for storage. Stranges Grocery was one of four groceries in Grand Junction’s Little Italy. Residents in the neighborhood visited the groceries every day or two to buy fresh food for their families and catch up on local news and gossip. Each store probably carried different items and catered to diverse Italian regional cuisines. Photographs show that Stranges carried canned goods, dry goods, sausages, bread, vegetables, and coffee.
The second floor of Stranges Grocery building had three small apartments, which had space for a bed, a chest of drawers, a sink, and a bathroom, but not much else. They probably housed new immigrants who were getting settled in Little Italy, such as railroad workers or family members of neighborhood residents.
Grand Junction’s Little Italy was probably at its height in the 1910s and early 1920s. At that time, the state’s Italian-born population peaked at about 15,000, with another 25,000 second-generation Italian Americans. In Grand Junction, Italian immigrants were subjected to discrimination from the Ku Klux Klan, leading the growing Italian population to stay in the safety of Little Italy, which allowed Italian-run businesses to thrive in the area.
A combination of social and economic changes caused Grand Junction’s Little Italy to decline in the middle decades of the twentieth century. By the late 1920s, as the number of Italian Americans increased and anti-Italian discrimination decreased, they were able to move out of Little Italy into the rest of Grand Junction. Then, as the Great Depression hit, many Italian workers left the area to find work wherever they could. Even though the economy recovered during and after World War II, Italians and other southern and eastern European immigrants had by that time become accepted as Americans, and there was no need or desire for them to remain segregated in their own neighborhoods.
As Grand Junction’s Little Italy declined, old neighborhood businesses like Stranges Grocery no longer had enough customers to stay open. Carl Stranges continued to manage the store until shortly before his death in 1942. He willed the grocery to his niece and her husband. They were able to keep the grocery open until at least 1953, but by 1963 the building was vacant. In the late twentieth century it passed through the hands of several owners, and a variety of businesses occupied the space.
By 2000, Stranges was the only unaltered Italian grocery building that still existed in Grand Junction, but it was threatened by a proposed road reconfiguration project. In 2001, the nonprofit Colorado Preservation Inc. listed the building as one of the state’s Endangered Places, and the city of Grand Junction redesigned the road project to save the building. Colorado Preservation worked with the property owner to get Stranges Grocery listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 and to find a new use for the building that will allow for its restoration.