The Bible Bookstore is the current occupant of the building at 106 Main St. but anyone who looks up at its façade will see the name BEY and the date 1902.

The name is for Will Bey, who had the building constructed that year and ran a grocery store there for 50 years. When Bey retired from the grocery business in January of 1952, he held the distinction of being the oldest retail grocer working in Indiana.

William Bey was born in Vincennes on Feb. 8, 1868, the son of Joseph and Josephine Kennel Bey. His father had emigrated from France. The family lived at 404 S. Second St. Joseph died in 1875 and Josephine died in 1894.

Bey got an early introduction to the grocery trade. By all accounts, he was only 13 when he quit school and began working as a clerk in the grocery of Jacob W. Cassell at 25 Main St. His brother, John, also worked there.

By the mid-1890s, Bey had partnered with his brothers, Anthony and John, in the grocery A.W. Bey & Bros. at 120 Main St. At the same time, he and John were operating Bey Bros. grocery at 701 Main St. These partnerships lasted for a few years. John eventually went into business with others, including his brother, Lawrence, in the John N. Bey & Co. Grocery at 207-211 N. Second St.

Will and Anthony worked together at the 106 Main St. store for a time. In 1912, Anthony opened a grocery at the corner of Second Street and Swartzel Avenue.

As noted, Will Bey ran his grocery store 1952. He rarely missed a day of work. He was popular with customers, described as having a winning personality. He knew people all over Knox and Lawrence counties by their first names.

Anthony Bey died in 1941 and John died in 1946. Lawrence, who had not continued in the grocery business, died in 1951.

It was the year after John’s death that the Secretary of the Indiana Retail Grocers and Meat Dealers Association wrote an article in the publication “Indiana Food Merchant” proclaiming Will Bey the “oldest active retail grocer in the state.”

Taking into account his time as a clerk in Cassell’s grocery, when Bey retired in 1952 he had worked in the grocery business for 70 years. He was 83 years old, about to turn 84, when he put in his last day on the job on Jan 14, 1952. His home at that time was 928 Vigo St.

Bey sold his store to Louis Melcho, who remodeled the building and, in March, opened an IGA there, Dixie Market No. 2. Melcho and his wife already operated Dixie Market No. 1 at 15th and Willow streets.

Will Bey died at a Princeton nursing home at the age of 85 on Oct. 12, 1953. He was survived by his wife, Eugenia, whom he married on May 30, 1900, and two daughters, Mary, of Olney, Ill., and Mildred, of Vincennes. The funeral was held on Oct. 15, with burial in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.

Eugenia died on April 14, 1960, at the age of 89.

Brian Spangle can be reached at bspangle@kcpl.lib.in.us.

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