Frank Curvin built popular Medina business that catered to the masses

Posted 12 October 2021 at 7:00 am

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 1, No 23

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Frank Curvin at his store. Note the root beer mugs on the counter and the display of pipers on the wall behind.

MEDINA – An advertisement in the Medina Tribune of October 21, 1921 signaled the opening of a new business venture at the modest Trolley Stop on North Main Street in Medina, a busy spot for passengers traveling east and west on the Rochester, Lockport and Buffalo Railway.

At the age of 48, Francis Gilbert Curvin was making a new start. A previous business venture in Brockport had not been successful. He had a wife and three children to support. The odds were not in his favor, but his creative and often audacious sales ploys ensured that his confectionery business grew and even survived the Depression, an accomplishment at a time when disposable income was in short supply. Remarkably, “Curvin’s” is still remembered locally 100 years later and the name continued to have a Main Street presence until recently.

Frank soon outgrew the “little store” at the Trolley Stop. He purchased the Callaghan & Sutter lunch room where he remained for one year and then moved to the 420 Main Street location. In 1826, he purchased the home at 321 Catherine St.

He promoted his business energetically and employed every possible promotional sales ploy. He advertised weekly, boldly proclaiming his sales offers and proclaiming his growing inventory.

He added newspapers and magazines to his inventory. He sold bottled milk and a limited line of groceries for the convenience of his customers. Noting a surge of interest in jigsaw puzzles, he added puzzles to his inventory, sold them at half price and facilitated puzzle exchanges for 5 cents.

Again ahead of his time, he installed a record player in the store to provide background music and a microphone to announce specials. These were connected to a loudspeaker in the entryway which broadcast the sound. Soon the system was being used to page people on Main Street and urging them to meet – at Curvin’s of course.

Naturally, his store was a magnet for children. A tantalizing array of Penny Candy was strategically placed at the rear of the store. As the children lingered while making their selection, the accompanying adults looked through the merchandise and no doubt made a purchase. Frank also operated a concession stand at the annual Rural School Picnic which was held in Elm Park for several hundred children and their parents.

Medina Tribune, September 1, 1929

He needed to be bold. By the 1930s he had to contend with the effects of the Depression as well as a declining trolley passenger volume. An inspired sales plan in 1932 proved to be a huge success. He hosted a party on Main Street in Medina on Tuesday nights, hiring the popular local Coppa Family Band to play. There were prizes galore and giveaways – towels, stockings, tobacco, ice cream. But the main draw was the grand prize – a ton of coal.

He intuitively tuned in to public need at the time and provided what people craved – music for a release from tough times, free entertainment, some excitement, the anticipation of winning a free gift. His contribution of the gift of a ton of coal each week was simply brilliant in terms of the publicity and name recognition it generated but also because it was a genuine recognition and acknowledgement of people’s needs.

The inclusion of a personal photograph in an advertisement was unusual at this time. The energetic pose echoes the various pillow, mattress and car salesmen we are familiar with today. Medina Daily Journal, Jan. 19, 1933.

Tuesday night was soon referred to as Curvin Night. The music began at 9 p.m. People began to assemble at 7 p.m. Attendance soon grew from hundreds each week to well over a thousand, many traveling for twenty or thirty miles. Naturally, many would need to purchase sodas, cigarettes and ice cream in the course of the evening. The extra traffic was a boon to other establishments as well.

An article in the August 10, 1932 Medina Daily Journal wryly observed:

“And still they come, and still the wonder grows, how Curvin draws the crowds, only Curvin knows.”

His sales precepts, which he outlined to columnist Russell Waldo, were simple:

“Advertise, keep your stock in sight, the customer must buy more than one item, smile and be pleasant, you cannot afford to be grouchy to customers, salespeople be treated with consideration and must be pleasant to the customers.”

One can well imagine that a visit to Curvin’s would have been a memorable, multi-sensory experience – music, promotional announcements, variety, selection, the mingled scents of newsprint, root beer, sweets, coffee, cigars, cigarettes, roasting peanuts.

Frank Curvin suffered a fatal heart attack at his store on November 25, 1946. He was 72. He was survived by his wife, Marjorie, daughter Catherine and sons Winthrop and Jonathan. He was predeceased by his first wife, Mabel in 1944.

The store continued under the management of George Bunnell until 1962 when it was sold to Mr. & Mrs. Kirk Kimball of Ridge Road.

(Photographs and information courtesy of the Medina Historical Society.)