Augustine & Kyer was a grand, upscale grocery store with origins in Seattle’s early years. It was Seattle’s “Pure Food Purveyor”, selling food and merchandise of the highest quality. It also provided superior order and delivery service to its customers. Its stores flourished from 1907 until the 1930’s when, unfortunately, it succumbed to the Great Depression.
The history of Augustine & Kyer begins with an English grocer named Charles Louch. In 1885, Louch opened a wood frame grocery store on Front Street (later renamed First Avenue) in what was eventually to become downtown Seattle. The sign above the entry read, “Cigars Tobacco Groceries & Provisions.” The 1885-86 Polk’s City Directory listed Louch as one of only 22 Seattle grocers.
In 1892, Louch formed a partnership with Manual Brock Augustine. Before settling in Seattle, M. B. Augustine lived in Silver City, Nevada, where he owned a general merchandise and mining supply store, and in Oakland, Calif., where he was a salesman for J.A. Folger, the coffee company.
In 1893, Louch, Augustine & Company moved its store to the new Colman Building at the corner of First Avenue and Marion Street. The store prospered in the late 1890’s during the Klondike gold rush, aided by Augustine’s experience as a mining supplier. The years 1907 – 1908 brought major changes. Louch and M.B. Augustine sold the company to Henry Kyer, Augustine’s son Julius was promoted to Vice President, and Kyer changed the company’s name to Augustine & Kyer. Kyer had been married to Alice Augustine, M.B. Augustine’s daughter, but they divorced in 1908, two days before Kyer purchased the company.
Kyer, a graduate of the University of Michigan, had arrived in Seattle in 1889, where he worked first as an accountant and later as a freight and ticket agent for a steamship company. He was an astute businessman and entrepreneur. As president of Augustine & Kyer, he remodeled and expanded the store’s floor space in the Colman Building to almost an acre. Over the next few years, he opened five branch stores, including the Queen Anne store in 1908.
In addition, he expanded the staff to 120 employees and hired 19 telephone operators to handle the daily orders phoned in by customers, or booked by operators calling customers to ask what they needed that day. According to Kyer, the company was the largest grocery store on the Pacific Coast outside of San Francisco.
On Queen Anne, Augustine & Kyer was located at 1507 Queen Anne Avenue. Betty Restaurant now occupies this site.
The Augustine & Kyer flagship store maintained a large fleet of delivery vehicles that lined the streets around the Colman Building, waiting to be loaded with the day’s deliveries. Telephone orders and delivery services were offered at the branch stores as well.
Behind its store in the Colman Building, in an annex across the alley, Augustine & Kyer opened a candy factory and bakery. A classified ad in the Seattle Daily Times published on Nov. 17, 1912 reads,
“WANTED – EXPERIENCED CHOCOLATE DIPPERS. GIRLS WHO HAVE EXPERIENCE IN RETAIL STORES PREFERRED. AUGUSTINE & KYER, 815 FIRST AVE. ASK FOR MR. MILLIKEN.”
Augustine & Kyer’s hand-dipped chocolates were a hit with customers. During the holidays the chocolates were handsomely packaged in wooden boxes imported from Japan that were inlaid with mother of pearl. They were sold in Augustine & Kyer stores as well as in drug stores and other stores around Seattle.
Augustine & Kyer developed a logo which it prominently displayed in its ads. The original logo appeared in an ad in the January 27, 1907 edition of the Seattle Daily Times promoting its booth at the Seattle Pure Food Exposition with the tag line, “Be sure to try a cup of A & K coffee or tea while visiting the Pure Food Show Booth No. 1.”
However, in November 1910, the Yakima Sheep Company filed a legal action against Augustine & Kyer asking for $50,000 in damages and a permanent injunction, alleging that Augustine & Kyer’s logo infringed on the design of its trademarked logo. Perhaps in response to this litigation, Augustine & Kyer created a new, distinctive logo.
Kyer became a prominent civic leader. He was described in a local publication as follows:
“Henry Kyer represents one of Seattle’s most conspicuous business successes. As President and General Manager of the great establishment of Augustine & Kyer, he gives to Seattle one of the finest food purveyors on the Pacific Coast. In fact, so complete and so handsome is the Augustine & Kyer store in the Colman Building that it is a continuous exhibition of the finest of things to eat. He not only established its present high standard, but he maintains it every day, for he is one of the every-present variety of businessmen and believes in personal supervision of every department. Not only is the firm an immense retailer, but it is as well a large manufacturer, having big candy, coffee, spice, and other packing departments. Mr. Kyer’s greatest pride is his poultry farm near Kent, which is developing into one of the biggest in the state, supplying the local establishment. A great lover of the outdoors, Mr. Kyer is an automobilist and a horseman. His saddle horse, valued at $1,000, is one of the Northwest’s thoroughbreds.”
From 1917 through 1919, Kyer served as Chairman of the Victory Bond Club, which promoted and administered the sale of U.S. Treasury bonds to pay off the federal debt from World War I. He was one of several men chosen to lead community events at Seattle parks on July 4, 1919 to celebrate the signing the Versailles treaty marking the end of World War I. Later, he served on the Board of Trustees of Northern Life Insurance Company. He was a benevolent employer. Augustine & Kyer sponsored social events for its employees, including Saturday evening dances and a Class B Division Commercial League baseball team that was active for many years.
Sadly, the flagship Augustine & Kyer store closed its doors in 1937 during the Great Depression. The company’s debt to its distributor, Pacific Fruit and Produce, became substantially in arrears. Kyer and his management were replaced by Pacific Gamble Robinson, Pacific Fruit’s parent company. The Queen Anne Augustine & Kyer store closed in 1938, and the other branch stores soon followed. Pacific Gamble hired an experienced grocer, Monte L. Bean, to lead the company and combine it with other Seattle grocery stores it had similarly acquired, including Eba’s Mutual Markets. Bean consolidated the businesses and renamed them Tradewell. Kyer retired in 1939 to the Olympic Peninsula, where he operated an inn.
But one part of the Augustine & Kyer grocery empire lived on. Its candy business was purchased by Horace W. Heath, a former employee of Augustine & Kyer. The candy and chocolate business prospered into the 1950’s, competing with Frango chocolates sold by Frederick & Nelson.
In his day, Henry Kyer was a giant in the Seattle business community and a pioneer in grocery retailing. He led the way for others who would soon follow in his footsteps.
JAN HADLEY is a a member of the Queen Anne Historical Society board of directors. For more information, to view source material for this article, or to read past articles in this series, go to qahistory.org.