Nothing has the power to bring you back to the good old days like stepping into a quaint, local variety store that you remember visiting years ago.
Godfrey’s Enterprise on Elgin Avenue may not look the same today as it did at the beginning, but its family-oriented atmosphere and core philosophies remain the same – delivering quality products to its customers while making sure everyone feels special.
In the beginning
Ashley Godfrey and his wife Hazel started a tiny family restaurant in June 1958. Ashley built the place himself. Sixty-one years later, after multiple expansions carried out by son Neals, it has grown into a fashionable family enterprise, according to son Nick, who has run the store with some assistance from Neals since their parents passed away.
From mini to maxi and bell bottoms to tie dye, Godfrey’s has seen fashion and prices change since those early times of the ‘50s. Lunch back then at the restaurant cost two shillings and sixpence; that got you a plate full of turtle meat, lobster or stewed conch with ‘breadkind’ and some heavy cake thrown in on the side.
“Those days it was very hard to get things for the restaurant because we didn’t have the supermarkets like we have today,” said Nick. Neals added they had to buy just enough for that day; there were no deep freezers to keep food. “People shopped every day for what they needed,” Nick said.
I remember heading into Godfrey’s after a convention at the Church of God on the waterfront to purchase Vanity Fair makeup. They always boasted about the many colours they had, which were usually difficult to come by for dark-skinned people.
“The atmosphere dealing with the public has remained the same; we are down-to-earth and when people come into the store, we try to make them feel at home,” said Nick, adding that most of the time he will go out of his way to help someone and Neals still plays his pranks to make people laugh. “I feel bad if they come for something and can’t find it, but I make sure on the next shopping trip I find something for them,” he said.
Nick said his father was a jack-of-all-trades in the community. He was butcher, coffin-maker, land appraiser, doctor’s referral agent, vestryman, husband and good father.
When they were young, both sons left their parents and sister Janice to go to sea. Nick joined the US Emperor in 1955 at age 19, while Neals joined the SS Commonwealth at 17.
They retired from sea life in 1965. Nick moved to the US with his wife and Neals returned to Grand Cayman to marry Olsey and carry out construction work.
Before going to sea, Nick recalls the old George Town police station being across the street where it is still located today. Next to the police station was a two-storey building where Dr. Hortor’s clinic was located. It later became a dental clinic, Nick said.
He said kids from as far as Triple C School would walk over to purchase lunch at the restaurant and some people in the community paid their bills when they received money from the men working overseas.
Adding the grocery store
Nick laughed as he recalled moments from his younger days … a police officer waiting on a prisoner in lockup to cross the street to purchase cigarettes. That was after Godfrey’s had expanded the side of the restaurant to include a grocery store to make extra money, as a lot of restaurants had started to spring up in Cayman at the time.
Neals recalled a Honduran national in lockup sneaking a drink of rum when he was allowed across the road to the store. “He quickly wiped his mouth just in case the policeman saw him take a swig,” Neals laughed, remembering the hilarious occasion.
After their mother passed away in 1976, Nick returned to Cayman to assist Janice with the business, which they had expanded to a variety store, selling anything you could think of.
He was 50 at the time.
“I used to work in New York in the garment district, so I knew a lot about the fashions and the wholesale places,” Nick said.
He makes sure the store keeps up with the latest fashion trends, He also personally travels to the US to purchase items for private customers who trust him to bring back a wardrobe they desire.
The store carries an array of goods, including ladies’ garments, two-piece outfits, dresses, children’s clothing and hats.
“Our place was a favourite for the men to buy shoes and suits because the prices were reasonable and they still are today,” Nick said.
“People will find in Godfrey’s a lot of things that you would not find in the other stores because most of them have gone into big time,” he added. “Whether you are rich or poor, [wear] small or large sizes, the store carries something for everyone.”
He said they carry some name brands such as BB Grant, Gloria Vanderbilt and Vanity Fair, a lot of colognes and costume jewelry, household items and accessories.
In addition to having the business on Elgin Avenue, the company opened another location on Godfrey Nixon Way in March 1986. That was a good decision, both brothers said.
“Times change, so we had to move ahead,” said Nick. “We still try to keep the little things that you can’t find around. When I am gone, I don’t know what will happen.”
Nick and Evelyn have three children: Jen, Michael and Bernadette; and Neals has two daughters, Carmen and Tonilee, with his wife, Olsey.