History of Lewiston’s Bonneau Markets on display

French-Canadian immigrants arrived in Lewiston and Androscoggin County communities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to provide labor for the growing industrial mills in the area.

Along with their excellent work ethic and often tireless mill labor, they also brought entrepreneurs like Victor and Lucien Bonneau.  When the brothers came to Lewiston as immigrants from Quebec, they eventually established the successful grocery store named Bonneau Markets.

Doris Bonneau

Doris Bonneau is the President of the Franco-American Collection at USM LAC. She made the Bonneau Market album available for the public to view. (L’Heureux photograph)

A large sized album was assembled by the Bonneau family for the purpose of preserving the history of this market. Doris Belisle Bonneau made the album temporarily available for the public to view. Currently, it is displayed at the Franco-American Collection, located in the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC FAC), on Westminster Street.

Madame Bonneau is the president of the Franco-American Collection (FAC). She leads a community Board at the FAC archives, a special collection originally established within the USM LAC by the late University of Southern Maine Franco-American Sociologist, and Lewiston native, Madeliene Giguere (1925-2004).

If anyone needs a quick lesson on the meaning of the word “inflation”, the term is easy to explain after viewing the prices in the Bonneau Markets ads, printed in local newspapers and preserved in the album.

Bonneau Markets album at FAC

Bonneau Markets sales (L’Heureux photograph)

In fact, the Bonneau’s built the family’s entrepreneurial market when the two brothers, Victor at age 24 and Lucien at age 20, opened the 500 foot grocery store on Blake Street, in 1934, in Lewiston. Even throughout the Great Depression, the business grew. A second out of town “master market”, opened in 1954 and in 1969 the business moved to an even larger location. The market was one of the largest in the Lewiston area, but during the 1980’s, competition from larger chain stores caused it to close.

A 1952 article published in The Maine State Grocers Bulletin described the Bonneau market located on Blake Street as having the reputation of being a family store. At the time, they did a good deal of credit business, meaning, their customers could purchase groceries and pay for them on paydays, or once a week. (Like my mother in law, Rose, who lived in Sanford, would have said, “Put the purchase on the slip” and my father- in-law paid the bill in total every Monday, on his day off.) Moreover, the Bonneau’s also did grocery deliveries. “You can see how the Bonneau family caters to their customers with service…,” reported the Bulletin.

Bonneau’s Market was known and respected for its butcher shop and fresh meats.  A motto of the company was “Never a Bum Steer”.

Bonneau's Market album cover

Bonneau’s Market “Never a Bum Steer”

After World War II, Lucien and Victor took their brothers Armand, Edgar and Euclide into the business as partners. As the business continued to expand, the brothers remained close to their customers. One of the news articles in Bonneau’s  album collection includes a picture of a customer using a new invention, for its time (circa 1954), called an automatic  door. “It’s like magic,” wrote the local newspaper. “No need to even push open the door as you leave the new Bonneau master market!”.  In fact, the “magic door” was activated by a “door-o-matic” technology. It swung wide open for the customers before they reached the exit. Other modern upgrades  in place for the 1954 opening included air conditioning, music and a courtesy telephone. The market was complimented for cleanliness. Their business practice included offering holiday special sales. In 1952, the business’s annual volume of sales was reported as $300,000.

A short history about several Franco-Americans entrepreneurs is available at this site in PDF format courtesy of USM LAC FAC.

Merci to the Bonneau family for the loan of their family’s history album, for the public to view. Check the website usm.maine.edu/franco for information about when the FAC is open.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.