Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 29, 2004, pg. 3
The 1868-built Eslow Block is no more. For the historical record, demolition this downtown landmark began during the 1 o’clock hour on Thursday, February 19, 2004 by Fred Zahm of the Pitsch Company of Grand Rapids. The next two hours were spent demolishing the portion of the building over the alley. A crowd of about 30 persons watched along the south side of W. Porter St. as the building was taken apart by the skilled crane operator. The crew returned on Monday, February 23 to finish the demolition of the Eslow Block and the Caines Paint store building.
One familiar face in downtown Albion for several decades was George A. Caines (1922-2003), who operated Caines Paint & Wallpaper at 212 S. Superior St. George passed away last December 25. Before the Albion Building Authority purchased the two buildings in 2000, George was the final owner of the Eslow Block and of course his paint store building.
George’s store evolved as a by-product of the local construction trade. His father, Earl Caines (1888-1945) opened a general construction business out of his home at 102 S. Huron St. in 1915. Earl and contractor Perry Sharp owned a double house in the 400 block of E. Cass St., and used the back building as a warehouse. Earl was especially talented with measuring with a square, which he took with him everywhere. Earl was contracted to erect the new houses on Darrow St. when it was developed. His last construction job was the Homer Blair home on E. Erie St.
Beginning in 1931, Earl went into the roofing business and used his Cass St. warehouse as headquarters. He subsequently opened a retail paint and supplies store at 120 N. Superior St. in February, 1935. It moved the following year to 212 S. Superior St., and was called Caines Paint & Wallpaper.
George began working at the store in 1939 when he graduated from Albion High School. After attending Cleary Business College in Ypsilanti for one year, George entered the military during World War II. He returned from the service and took over the store after his father died. Even into the late 1940s, George was still giving pre-printed “Earl Caines Roofing Co.” receipt forms from the 1930s to his customers upon their orders.
One quirk about George’s store was a “left-over” policy from World War II: George was always closed on Wednesday afternoons. That policy dated back to the War years when all Albion businesses were encouraged to close on Wednesday afternoons in order to save energy, materials and supplies for the War effort. After the War was over, George kept the policy and remained closed on Wednesday afternoons.
George was well-known in town for his expertise on color combinations, and mixing specialized colors for paints and varnishes. He could “match” the color of anything. Yours truly was appreciative of his color expertise with some painting and varnishing of our own house on several occasions. For instance, it was George who transformed our bright “safety yellow” color house into a more palatable shade of grey which matched the shingles and landscaping.
On January 24 I had the opportunity to tour his now-demolished building. On the third floor I discovered wire lines hung lengthwise with probably over a hundred hanging hooks. George apparently used these to paint, hang and dry pieces of wood for various customers. The second floor likewise had large sheets of cardboard where items were placed upon them to dry. In the basement I discovered a pile of unused coal, no doubt left from the days when the building was heated via a coal furnace.
When George acquired the Eslow Block next door following the departure of Western Auto in the mid-1980s, he told me he was forced by the building inspector to cut the electricity to the second floor because he couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would have taken to install conduit and bring the second floor “up to code” as the new owner. This was even before handicap laws would have also required an elevator. Thus went the possibilities to continue using the second floor as had been done by Western Auto.
George became a fixture in downtown Albion for fifty years before he quietly closed the store in 1996 and retired. In his later years George would sit and read the newspaper and other materials while he waited for customers. As one of Albion’s senior merchants, he was always a willing resource for yours truly of information about Albion history as well as contemporary topics.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of George Caines standing in front of his store during the mid-1970s, with the large sign overhead. On the right underneath however is the window sign that was painted in the late 1930s. There’s a special story about that. It was the last job that one of Albion’s expertise masons and plasterers, David Lewis Trine (1857-1939) did. George told me, “He was up in his ‘80s then, and he shook like a leaf, until his hand touched the glass; then he was just a steady as anybody could be.” How many of our readers had George Caines mix custom “matching” paint for them?
George Caines, mid-1970s
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic