From the March 5, 1971 edition of the Gazette:

Smith, Bodfish, Swift Co., in Vineyard Haven, one of the Island’s oldest concerns, has been purchased by David Flanders of Chilmark, Ralph M. Packer Jr. of Vineyard Haven, and Philip J. Norton Jr., of Edgartown.

The more-than-a-century old grain store whose weathered-shingled, maroon-trimmed front with its high loading platform is a Water street landmark, will be kept largely as it is.

Although no one is certain precisely when it was built, there is no Islander about who does not remember it. Although it stood below the handsome houses that then lined the brow of the hill between Main street and the harbor, it was never an eyesore. It was, rather, a place of fascination for youngsters in the early days of this century.

There they could watch the horse-drawn carts proceed from the wharf where they had been loaded with grain from two-masted packets, to the east side of the tall building where the corn and oats, barley, buckwheat and millet were carried by conveyor to the second story for storage in their appropriate bins. Sometimes, if grain was being ground, the puff-puff of the steam engines would stop passersby — particularly small ones, who would happily cock their heads to better hear the huff and clatter.

A two-room lock-up in the shed where grain is stored nowadays was not the least of the attractions of the neighborhood for youngsters and one old-timer merrily recalls the morning a befuddled overnight occupant of the jail was found outside it the next morning by the police who had incarcerated him in his drunken state. Some dastardly fellow, he told them with dismay, had shut him up in the building the night before, and when he awoke, he had, of course, had to break his way out.

The grain store is believed to have been built for William J. Rotch, a West Tisbury town father in the first quarter of the century, founder of what became Gifford’s General Store in that town, and one of the Island’s most successful stock dabblers of that era.

After a time, the store was sold to Will Call and W. P. Bodfish, two other enterprising Island businessmen who, in the heyday of their operations had grocery stores (known popularly as Codfish Ball stores as the names were united) on Main street in Vineyard Haven where the Pyrofax Gas Company now stands; at the foot of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs and where Our Market is today, and in Edgartown at the Four Corners.

Business bustled in Vineyard Haven in those days, and Bodfish and Call had plenty of competitors; among them the Swift Brothers and Look, Smith and Company. The former was owned by William S. Swift, the wiry energetic Tisbury town clerk who went on to be twice elected to the General Court, and his brother, Holmes. Their store stood where Brickman’s now is.

On Union street, in the building most recently occupied by the Opticus photo studio, Albert Look, Arthur L. Smith and his twin brother Herbert L. Smith marketed meats and groceries as part of the Look-Wahsburn Company.

It was deemed wiser, in 1910, to combine these many markets, rather than continue in competition, and it was then that the Smith, Bodfish, Swift Company was born. Like the Call-Bodfish (Codfish) Company, Smith, Bodfish, Swift soon had its nickname. Prices were rising in those days and S.B.S. was understood to stand for Skin’m, Beat’m, and Soak’m.

The S.B.S. Company had continued to sell groceries in many locations, as well as the grain that Bodfish and Call had always sold on Water street. In 1912, there were 12 Island S.B.S. stores.

But the most colorful of the lot, then and now, was the grain store. It smelled richly of fertilizer and hay and lime and bone meal. Big brown burlap sacks with ears were piled high in its storerooms. When the grain poured down its wooden chutes there was a thunderous sound. And there was always affection for the employees. Two who are remembered vividly today are the late Edward E. Dahill and Curtis Athearn.

Mr. Dahill had come to the grain mill in the days when Mr. Rotch owned it, and it was he, principally, who operated the steam engine that ground the grain. For 56 years, until 1969, he was a familiar figure in the store - always in a hat, tie and a vest, whitened by the grain dust, always with a cigar in his mouth.

Curtis Athearn, who died in 1962, was also a longtime employee, and it was he who did most of the delivering for the firm. The store’s most recent manager has been Louis J. Trebby, who, for the past 12 years has ruled over the store, nicknamed in these later days, the Little White House, and known as a pleasant gathering place for the town’s male citizenry, many of them officials, who would solemnly weigh local political problems there. Under the new ownership, the stock will remain largely the same. The new manager is Brian Flanders, who already is being kept busy bagging rabbit pellets, cracked corn and thistle seed, and weighing out crimped oats and stock primer.

Compiled by Hilary Wall