Ten-Ten Leaves Memories In Mercedes
Ten-Ten Leaves Memories In Mercedes
Charles Bertholf took longing glances at the trucks rumbling over the site where his beloved community store stood.
The Ten-Ten Grocery store on east 2nd Street where it intersects with FM 491 was a place, Bertholf said, “everyone knew.’’
It harkened back to the history of a small town when American life was rumbling back to a new normal right after World War II. Baby Boomers were kids back then, going through the comics at the Ten-Ten, maybe with the one of the store’s raspas in hand. Truck drivers making deliveries stepped in to get a cold drink to make a brief but refreshing pause on their way up-and-down the Rio Grande Valley.
Mercedes was a midpoint in the region, as it now, with the Ten-Ten in the days before Expressway 83 being an ideal spot to take a bit of a break.
“We had a full line of everything,’’ said Bertholf, recalling the meat market in his store to go with the cold beverages, snacks, pickles and popcorn. Even fishing bait was sold at the Ten-Ten to drop a line in the canals going through Mercedes. The Ten-Ten was also known for its love of cats. They were everywhere, to hear people tell it, in and out of the store, up on trees outside or store counters inside.
Those memories will have to do. The Ten-Ten is gone. So is the home next to it where Bertholf and his wife, Julia, lived for over 50 years. It’s where they raised their children and enjoyed many a barbecue by their backyard pool. Charles closed the Ten-Ten in 2013. He purchased the store in 1970, a young veteran just concluding his service and returning home to buy the iconic stop-and-go grocery store in the heart of the Valley.
Bertholf had been looking to sell the property where his store and home long stood. He finally found a buyer. A Sonic Crush Drive-In is going up on the Bertholf’s old property site. Some would call it progress even as others lament the passing of an iconic business. Bertholf is in the former group even if he felt more than a tinge of bittersweet feelings seeing his store torn down in early April.
“It’s time for a change,’’ he said. “This will be good for the city. It’ll be a nice view coming into Mercedes.
Jessie Brothers owned the Ten-Ten back in `70 when Bertholf purchased the store.
Charles is a La Feria native. After his military service, he began working at the Ten-Ten, a store he knew well from his youth. Brothers took a liking to the young vet and offered to sell Bertholf the store. Chalres took him up on it. For over 40 years it would be his life, along with his family, a fulltime endeavor he devoted himself daily, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The store’s original hours when in opened in the mid-1940s was 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., so hence it became the Ten-Ten.
Bertholf would remodel the store and bolster its inventory. All manner of chips, cigarettes, cold drinks and snacks could be found at the Ten-Ten. The store was particularly known for its raspas and comic books, a haven for kids in eras when youngsters could walk to a neighborhood store and hang out for a spell without their parents being worried where they were.
“It was a focal point,’’ Julia Bertholf said. “There was a whole lot of hanging out always going on at the Ten-Ten.’’
Rumbling To The Future
In early April, as the construction trucks did their work clearing his property, Bertholf offered a collection of mini-stories of his years of business and family at the Ten-Ten.
He recalled the many local youth he hired in giving them their first jobs. He looked over to his pool and told stories of summer evening get-togethers when the days seemed endless. The store’s business sustained them, made their lives possible as they knew it. The property would now serve them well in their retirement.
The corner of 2nd, (also known as Business 83), and FM 491 is a high traffic corner, so it made for an ideal spot to put a new restaurant. Its sale decades after Charles bought the old store will help provide for him and Julia as they head off to the Texas Hill Country for their golden years and to be closer to their adult children. All of this, knowing the years pass and it was all for the best, didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
“We knew this was coming,’’ Julia said. “Now seeing it happen, it’s emotional, just really setting in that we’re leaving.’’
They both stood for a moment, looking at the trucks taking away what pieces of what was the Ten-Ten. Their home would be torn down the next day. In the living room, their cats were already in their cages, ready to be whisked away as a neighborhood cat sat up high in an old oak tree, looking down on it all.
The cats of the Ten-Ten were still there – right to the end.
- Ricardo D. Cavazos