Champagne’s Super Market Founder: Manchester NH’s Romeo J. Champagne (1906-2000)

Romeo Champagne

Romeo J. Champagne (1906-2000)

He was born “Romuald Champagne” in 1906 in Chelsea Maine, a tiny town outside of Augusta. He was the son of Canadian immigrants, Mathias and Marie Louise (Martineau) Champagne, both mill workers who immigrated to Maine, later removing to New Hampshire.  His parents moved to Manchester by the time Romeo was 3 years old and in 1910 his family is shown in the census living with maternal grandparents, Joseph & Desange Martineau, who resided at 566 Montgomery Street.  He was called ‘Romuald’ on his birth and marriage certificates, ‘Raymond’ [once] on the census, and finally was being called ‘Romeo’ by the time he owned his first grocery store.

Romeo Champagne attended Manchester schools, but probably not much beyond grammar school, because by the age of 14, he started his first job with Martineau & Gilbert, a retail grocery store [probably owned by maternal relatives]. About 1927 went to work in Claremont, New Hampshire for The Cloverdale, a store chain, learning even more about the grocer’s trade.

Site of Romeo Champagne's Store #1, corner of Amory and Dubuque Streets, Manchester NH.

Site of Romeo Champagne’s Store #1, corner of Amory and Dubuque Streets, Manchester NH.

In 1933 he bought his first grocery store on the west side of Manchester NH  at 168 Amory Street [corner Dubuque & Armory]. The store was enlarged several  times, and became Super Market No. 1 in 1946.

Mr. Champagne bought a second grocery store in 1948-1949 on the east side of Manchester at 140 Wilson Street.   This became Super Market No. 2, and by now his stores were touted as”New Hampshire’s Most Sanitary Markets.” In April of 1956 the Manchester Shopping Center was built, and the following August, Champagnes Super Market moved there, from 140 Wilson Street to 310 Wilson Street.  Early on in his grocery career, Romeo Champagne adopted the use of S&H green stamps, one of the first retail loyalty programs.  Customers would receive stamps based on the amount of their purchase, and could redeem them for premiums (housewares and other items)

In February of 1952 Mr. Champagne opened Super Market No 3 on the Daniel Webster Highway on the outskirts of Manchester.  In 1954 he opened his Nashua store on 75 East Hollis Street. The Davidson Construction Company constructed that 80×140 building, with parking for 150 cars. [it closed before 1975].

Champagne's Super Market, Exeter NH. Photograph Courtesy Exeter Historical Society.

Champagne’s Super Market, Exeter NH. Photograph Courtesy Exeter Historical Society.

The 14 March 1955, the Portsmouth Herald newspaper announced that “The Paquette Supermarket, located at the Portsmouth avenue shopping center here, has been sold to Champagne’s Supermarkets Inc. of Manchester. The sale was completed Saturday after three weeks of negotiations between Roland Paquette and Romeo J. Champagne, president and treasurer of the Manchester firm. The purchase makes Champagne’s markets the largest independent food chain in New Hampshire with three other stores in Manchester and one other in Nashua.” Romeo Champagne had, within the course of 23 years, developed his name-brand chain from a one-man store to a business of over 250 employees and $16 million annual gross.  Between 1955 and 1957 he acquired and opened his final store in Concord, New Hampshire.

grand union champagnes nashua storeThen, in 1957 Romeo Champagne decided to retire.  The Morning Herald, Hagerstown MD, 18 Oct 1957 reported — “Grand Union Acquires Six Store Chain. Grand Union Co., which recently purchased the three H.L. Mills food markets here, has acquired through an exchange of stock Champagne’s Super Markets, a six-store New Hampshire food chain. Champagne’s annual sales amount to about $12 million. Three of the markets are in Manchester, while the others are in Nashua, Concord and Exeter. Prior to the acquisition, Grand Union operated 370 stores in nine states, the District of Columbia and Canada. Its net sales in the year ended last March totaled $374,155,488.”  As Grand Union-Champagnes, this name brand grocery continued to have a presence in Manchester New Hampshire for at least another decade.

Personal: In addition to owning and running a busy grocery store chain, Romeo Champagne was personally, professionally, and politically even busier.  He married in

1957 passport, Romeo Champagne.

1957 passport, Romeo Champagne.

1927 in Manchester to a local girl, Germaine Laflamme, and was soon the father of a daughter, Doris. Their family home was only a few blocks from Romeo’s childhood neighborhood, at 223 Coolidge Avenue. During World War 2, he was Chairman for Hillsborough County Food Stand Plan, Chairman for the Hillsborough County Fuel Coordinator, local fuel coordinator for West Manchester and chairman of the gasoline panel of the West Manchester Rationing Board, Chairman for Hillsborough County Savings Bond Drive, and served on the Manchester Ration Board.  He was a long-time parishioner of Ste. Marie Church, often taking leadership roles in their fun raising and social events.  In 1957 he traveled to Brazil [see passport].

Politics:  Romeo Champagne was a two term, and sole Democratic member of the Governor’s council 1952-56 [New Hampshire]. He was NH State Chairman of the Democratic Party in 1956. He led the First District ticket as a pledged delegate to US Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1960. He was appointed by President Kennedy as Special Ambassador to Senegal Africa in 1961 with Vice President Johnson’s delegation to the Geneva Peace Conference and then to Paris for the tenth anniversary of NATO.

Professional:  Romeo Champagne was active in professional groups relating to his occupation, and the community in which he lived.  He was President of St. Mary’s Bank, and Director of Merchants Savings Bank, Manchester; Member of the Manchester Country Club; member, Association Canadeo-Americaine and Knights of Columbus, fourth degree; Pres-Treas and chairman of Board of Associated Grocers of NH; Pres of Independent Food & Grocers of N.H., New England Director of the Super Market Institute. He was also Director of the Small Business Association of New England, Director and Vice President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Philanthropy: Romeo Champagne was a member of several charitable boards, and active in raising funds for them.  He was a member of the Executive Committee of NH Catholic Charities [In 1955 he was state chairman of the 10th annual appeal of the New Hampshire Catholic Charities Inc.]; Director of Crotched Mountain Foundation and member; Board of Advisors, Mt. St. Mary’s College; memorial and special gifts chairman for New England, Rivier College’s 1956 Jubilee Building Campaign.

Other Interests:  Romeo Champagne was greatly interested in baseball.  So much so that in 1962 he purchased the Richmond VA Triple-A farm club of the New York Yankees. Leo Cloutier of Manchester, then sports editor of the NH Sunday News, was named general manager and executive VP of the club.  About this time the Champagne family moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL where they remained for 32 years.  In 1992 Romeo moved back to Manchester.

Looking at Romeo Champagne’s accomplishments, it is obvious that he was constantly busy, always involved, and one of Manchester’s leading citizens.   He died in Manchester in 2000, and a partial genealogy, starting with his parents, is shown below.

 =====PARTIAL GENEALOGY of Romuald “Romeo” CHAMPAGNE=====
[Editor’s note: the surname Champagne was spelled several ways in various documents, including Champage, Champaigne, Champaygn, etc.]

Mathias/Matthew D./L. Champagne, son of Sylven & Catherine (Poulet) Champagne, b abt 1877 St. Henry, Canada; d 19 April 1923 in Manchester NH; m. 7 October 1901 in Manchester NH to Marie Louise Martineau/Martingall, dau of Joseph & Desanges (Gregoire) Martineau. She b. abt 1881 in Chelsea, Maine. In 1904 he was a weaver in the woolen mill, and his son ‘Romeo’ lists his occupation as a loom fixer. He was naturalized 30 October 1902-1919 and living at 282 Cartier Street in Manchester NH. His witnesses were: Odilon Dubois and Gedeon Gosselin both of Manchester NH. He served as a private in the military during World War 1, Company C, 1st Maine Batallion, Heavy Infantry. At the time of the request for Mathias’ tombstone, his wife Marie was living at 90 Reed Street in Manchester NH. In 1919 the widowed Marie was living at 370 Cartier Street; In 1954 she was living at 332-1/2 Notre Dame Avenue.
1910 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester >566 Montgomery Street
Joseph Martineau Head M 68 Canada immigrated 1887
Desand Martineau wife f 62 Canada imm 1887
Marie Champayne dau F 30 Canada imm 1887
Mathias Champayne son-in-law M 34 Canada
Angeline Champayne granddau F 8 NH
Eu*la Champayne granddau F 7 NH
Wilfred Champayne Grandson M 5 NH
Isabelle Champayne granddau F 4 NH
Ramaiul Champayne grandson M 3 NH
Katherine Champayne granddau F 2 NH
1920 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester > 546 Montgomery Street
Joseph Martineau Head M 78
Desange Martineau Wife F 72
Marion Champaigne dau F 38
Angeline Champaigne granddau F 17
Lillian Champaigne F 16
Wilfred Champaigne 15
Isabel Champaigne 14
Raymond Champaigne 13
Maria Champaigne 11
1930 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester
Desanges Martineau 80
Marie Champaige 49
Audalie Champaige 27
Children of Mathias & Marie L. (Martineau) Champagne:
1. Angeline Labrie, b. abt 1902; d. 18 January 1944 in Manchester NH; m. 5 Sep 1921 in Manchester NH to Joseph Cleophas Labrie, son of Frank & Clara (Lavoie) Labrie; They had children [LABRIE]:Violette, Claire, Therese, Arthur and Jeannette (possibly more). He married 2nd) 29 August 1942 in Allenstone NH to Sadie Vivianne Bouley, dau of Joseph N. & Eva (Varin) Bouley; He married 3rd) 16 Nov 1946 in Manchester NH to Beatrice Gracia Descoteaux, dau of Napoleon & Annie (Doucette) Descoteaux
2. Eulalie “Lillian” Champagne, b abt 1903; m. 2 May 1931 in Manchester NH to Ernest Joseph Durant, son of James Joseph & Louise (Fournier) Durant.
3. son [Wilfred] Champagne, b. 1 Nov 1904 in Fairfield, Maine; in 1925 living with his mother at 90 Reed Street in Manchester NH
4. Dardy “Isabelle” Champagne, b. 31 Oct 1905 in Chelsea Maine; m. 27 June 1927 in Manchester NH to Arthur Labonte, son of J. Alexander & Eugenie (Courchesne) Labonte; she d. 17 Nov 1931 in Nashua NH at St. Joseph Hospital. Had been living in Hudson NH
5. +Rounnald/Romuald Joseph “Raymond” “Romeo J.” Champagne, b. 18 Dec 1906 in Chelsea, Maine
6. son Champagne, b 12 October 1909 in Manchester NH; premature birth, died 1 hour later.
7. Maria/Marie Champagne, b. abt 1909; m. 20 Feb 1928 in Manchester NH to Ovila Roux, son of Alfred & Marie L. (Bourassa) Roux. He b abt 1908 in –. She m2) — Roberge.
8. female infant, b. and d. 8 June 1911 in Manchester NH, premature birth

Romuald “Romeo” Champagne, b. 18 Dec 1906 in Chelsea Maine; m. 25 July 1927 in Manchester NH to Germaine/Germine Laflamme, daughter of Romuald & Delima (Larochelle) Laflamme). She was b. abt 1905 in Canada and d. 1996. She grew up at 445 Cartier Street. At the time of his marriage his occupation was painter, and she was a mill operative. In 1954 living at 223 Coolidge Avenue in Manchester NH.  They are buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Manchester NH.
1920 US Census > NH > Sullivan > Claremont > 45 Prospect Street
Champagne, Romuald Head renting M W 23 married at age 20 Maine Can-Fr Can-Fr Manager, Chain Grocery
Champagne, Germaine Wife F W 25 married at age 22 C-F C-F C-F
Champagne, Doris, daughter F W 1 single NH Maine Canada
1931 > Directory > NH > Claremont
Champagne Romeo J. (Germaine) Mgr 30 Tremont Sq, res 74 Hanover
[The Cloverdale: 160 Main, 30 Tremont Sq.; 12 Pleasant and North cor Chellis]
Child: of Romeo J. & Germaine (Laflamme) Champagne:
1. Doris Theresa Champagne, who m. Roland Paul Genest. Manchester NH. Their children: Lise Doris Genest, Christina Genest-Kearns, David Genest, Paul Genest.

This entry was posted in History, New Hampshire Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Champagne’s Super Market Founder: Manchester NH’s Romeo J. Champagne (1906-2000)

  1. David Kearns says:

    I married into this family and spent a fair amount of time with Romeo and Germaine. They were lovely people and this profile and partial genealogy is remarkably well done. Romeo’s biography is a great example of the American Dream. From immigrant to millworker, in his case painter (his soon to be wife was the mill worker), to businessman, to successful businessman and long life in comfortable retirement.

    I’ve spent several decades doing a family genealogy for our children and, as part of that effort, have tried my best to document Romeo’s life. You’ve captured a number of things I know are true, but haven’t yet independently documented. For example, I know Romeo was a delegate to the 1960 Democratic Party Convention, we have a picture of Romeo at the convention with Kennedy and Johnson, great links to the Kennedy remarks. On another note, I knew he worked in a grocery store in Claremont, but you gave me the name of the store.

    When I accessed your blog today I see a few words where the text is crossed through, possibly indicating a deletion or anticipated deletion. I expect this is a software glitch, but I checked each instance and can independently verify almost every one as true and should not be deleted. The only exceptions are the death of Romeo’s father, Mathias, and his military service. Mathias did die on 19 Apr 1923, but not in Manchester. He died in Lawrence, MA. His military service was in the 1st ME Battalion in 1898, but not Infantry. My sources indicate Heavy Artillery. I find that significant.

    Mathias Champagne and his wife Marie Louise Martineau, were married 7 Oct 1901 in Manchester, NH. Both before his service in the Spanish American War and after, Mathias worked at textile mills in Manchester. In 1911 he worked at an Amoskeag Mill in Manchester. By 1916 Mathias was working as a loom fixer at Everret Mills in Lawrence MA. Apparently, he and his wife had separated. In 1921 she filed for a legal separation on the grounds of abandonment. In the 1921 Lawrence City Directory he is listed as having removed to Canada. In the 1923 Lawrence City Directory he is listed as a mill operative. He died that year, at age 45. The death certificate was not signed by an attending physician as normal, but by Wm B Hale, an agent of the Lawrence Board of Health. The cause of death was recorded as unknown natural causes.

    I have no idea how Mathias Champagne actually died, but I strongly suspect his war service was a factor and his prior and subsequent employment in textile mills was a complicating factor. Both were thunderous environments. I can’t imagine what it must have been like firing heavy artillery in 1898. I am sure they were all really, really loud and sometimes the armament exploded, killing those close. At least artillery was episodic. In a textile mill, the noise was loud and continuous. Just Google “textile mill sounds” and multiply these recent examples by 100 or 1000 times to replicate the sound faced by early 20th century mill workers in buildings stretching a quarter to a half mile long packed as closely as possible with looms. I am sure he suffered from what was then called shell shock and now recognized as PTSD.

    • Janice Brown says:

      David, thank you for posting this wonderful addendum to the Champagne family. I grew up in Manchester and remember going to his stores, they were a favorite of my family. I will answer your email separately!

  2. Marie says:

    I could ask my grandmother. He was her grandfather.

    • David Kearns says:

      Please do check with your grandmother. I’d love to know what other family memories there were. I don’t remember Romeo talking about his father, but he was one of the younger children in that household.

Leave a Reply