506 Commercial Street

Former Tillie’s Store

If your eyes tell you that a portico under a projecting second floor speaks of a former commercial tenant, give yourself an architectural detective’s badge. This was for many years Tillie’s Store, run by Matilda “Tillie” Jason (b 1913) and her husband, John “Johnny” Jason (b 1912); one of the more important of the little neighborhood institutions that defined life in the East End in the decades after World War II.

There may have been a store at this site since the 1850s, Josephine Del Deo suggested in her 1977 examination of the property for the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Jasons told her that it had been a poolroom in the 19th century. Alfred and Ida Mayo owned the building before the Jasons, who opened their store in the early 1940s. Tillie’s was in one sense a grocery store — for instance, you could buy a package of frozen Barnstable scallops there for $1.25 — but it was a grocery store unlike any other in the country because it offered a seat caning service and the literary works of Harry Kemp, each “signed with a seagull’s feather” by the author himself, who also patronized the store.

[Updated 2012-05-06]




4 thoughts on “506 Commercial Street

  1. John and Tillie were supremely lovely people. They were, among other things, a “Penny Candy Store.” When I was very young, they sold candy to kids at a monetary loss because (quoting my Dad who was quoting John): “A kid has to be able to buy something for a penny.”

    Later, they sold beer to adults for almost break-even. In ’76 I was working on a roof a couple doors away, and at quittin’ time we would buy 16 oz. bottles of Pickwick Ale (the label claimed they were “the poor man’s whisky”) for 25 cents.

    Tillie’s is still my all-time favorite Ptown store and there’s some fine competition for that title.

  2. My mother’s rocker, which I have, was caned by Johnny and the caning is still good. Danny’s right, Tillie was a dear and when she said Jump, Johnny jumped. Just to the left of the register near the door stood the ice chest containing the beer and bottles of pop (as soda was called back then); there were several big blocks of ice from DeRiggs that cooled the water that was maybe two feet deep that as a kid I used to plunge my arm into to see how long I could stand the cold. This you did openly, Johnny let you do it. The penny candy was in the glass case to the rear — “dots” on long strips of paper, marshmallow twists, jelly beans. The walls had shelves holding the basics — salt, flour, beans, etc. Kids easily made up half of Tillie’s customers. It was a happy place. 

  3. Johnny and Tillie were my husband’s maternal grandparents. The store was an amazing place and Johnny and Tillie were wonderful people and the best grandparents in the world, as you can imagine. I remember the first time I went in the store and the last and all the wonderful times in between. Many, many, happy memories at 506 Commercial Street. A Provincetown jewel for sure!

  4. For many years we were neighbors of Tillie’s, when we lived at 510 Commercial. Tillie’s ran small charge accounts for local residents, not for families, but individually, as I learned when Johnny asked me one day if I wanted to pay Kurt’s bill. Evidently the men had to pay for their own beer.

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