Remembering When

by Jerry Person
Huntington Beach City Historian

Dedicated to the people of Huntington Beach

Terry's Coffee Shop


Just recently I was surprised to see longtime downtown window washer Michael Jennings and his wife walk past my office door on the way to my office neighbor John Piekarski to have their taxes done. Before Michael left we chatted about how downtown Main Street has changed.

Back in the 1980s I would see Jennings washing the windows of several of the merchants including the windows of Terry's Coffee Shop at the corner of Main and Walnut.


Terry's Coffee Shop as it looked in August 1983


Terry's Coffee Shop was originally started by Sam Terry, but for this week lets remember the coffee shop that both Jennings and I remember so well through the 1980s when John and Nancy Chen owned the popular local meeting place.


Nancy Chen behind the counter preparing a meal for a customer circa 1980s


Nancy, her husband John and their three daughters were the last owners of Terry's Coffee Shop at 201 Main from 1981 to its closing in 1991. The Chens also added some Chinese food to the menu for their customers.

Terry's was a place like the Sugar Shack is today where locals gathered for coffee and to socialize and so I got to thinking back to all the locals who used to frequent Terrys and wonder what they would think about how the downtown has changed.

But then we want to remember back before redevelopment changed the look and feel of Main Street forever.

But then if you went there on any weekday it was possible to see find former Huntington Beach mayors Ted Bartlett and Don Shipley in a back booth with newspaperman George Farquhar, talking up a storm for hours on some subject or other.

Another customer at Terry's was former city councilman Dr. Henry Kaufman who was our town optometrist from the 1940s thru the 1970s setting at the counter having his morning coffee.

Terry's along with the Sugar Shack was a popular handout for the surfers of that time and only today "the shack" remains a popular surfer hangout.

Over in another booth in the mornings one could be found Anna Rachon working her morning crossword puzzle. Rachon and her husband had owned Frenchie's Fix-it Shop at 119 Main Street back in the 1960s.

Then there was "Broadway Bob" Johnson, so called because he worked at the Broadway store in Huntington Center. Johnson was also known forever loosing his wallet and his bicycle.

In Booth #2, Bethal "Larry" Ethridge who held court each morning that is when he wasn't writing his book about a mythical character he called Professor Juan Doon. Bethal along with another Terry customer Larry Yoder, were local sign painters who did many of the signage along Main Street.

The three Cronin brothers- Jim, Leo and Mike, were usually there listening to some of Ethridge's stories.

Huntington Beach's local activist and a good friend George Arnold was also a customer and sometimes when he was on some wild cause would be told to "calm down George" by Nancy Chen.


George Arnold standing in front of Terry's Coffee Shop January, 1986


George Draper, the honorary mayor of Main Street, was another local Terry customer who was always bringing in pictures of boats he wanted to buy. He always carried a pouch in his pocket for coins to pay for his coffee and many times sat with his friends Rudy and Carson.

Ray "the Fisherman" was another local Terry customer and would be forever telling customers around him about how he believed the world was controlled by seven Swiss bankers and would spend hours telling people about it.

Then there was Karen Topolewski who even today would die to get some of Chen's famous sesame hot sauce to put over her rice at home.

The neighborly Main Street that I knew is gone and so are many of the people who frequented Terry's Coffee when Main Street was still part of a town within a city.

On July 12, 1991 the property owner had the building tore down as the start of the redevelopment era began.
Photos by JerryPerson