Supermarkets and grocery stores play an important role in our communities. They keep us fed and supplied with everything we need and want. These days, we could not be more grateful for their essential work. So today let us take shopping trip back in time to one such store which once stood on St. George Street – the Benet Store.
Located at 62 St. George Street, the first documented structure at this site appears on a 1765 map of the town. The property changed hands multiple times over the years until Peter (or possibly Pedro) Benet purchased it in 1839. Before then, Benet operated his store on the ground floor of his house across the street, as evidenced through taxes he paid on stock at $16 per year for shop licenses.
Benet applied for leave to move his shop from his house to his new building as recorded in the City Council Minute Book of October 13, 1840. When Benet passed away in 1870, his son Joseph Ravina Benet held occupational licenses from 1871-1883. The licenses were usually listed for keeping a store, or for selling goods, wares, and merchandise. The store remained in existence until the late 19th century – when a notice in an 1887 newspaper appeared ordering the sale of property. The structure was demolished on August 13, 1903 – before Bernard A. Masters built a new building on the site.
The Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board began reconstructing a building on the old foundations of the old Benet store in 1967. In their reconstruction efforts, the Board used early photographs, historic research, and recollections of two surviving members of the Benet family. They even found a wood store interior from San Miguel, Mexico, to simulate the 19th-century shop.
“Miss Benet’s [Mary Carmen Benet] recollections were most helpful for reconstruction of the store’s interior, since she remembered exposed beams and wide-planked floors, from which lanterns, pots, pans, rope and harnesses were hung.”“Reconstructed Store Will Open Tomorrow” by Anne Carling in St. Augustine Record, December 21, 1967 (UFDC)
The reconstructed general store became a part of San Agustín Antiguo – a living history museum running the length of St. George Street. The Benet Store served as a craft store and museum. It’s contents included: sausage stuffers, a cabbage shredder, an auger, hand wrought shears, and tongs hung from the ceiling. There were barrels of food throughout the store and announcements for ship arrivals into the port of St. Augustine lined the walls.
Although the living history museum closed years ago, you can still shop at the Benet Store today (just not for your groceries anymore). Stop by next time you are strolling along St. George Street.