Street Smarts: Health food success for Tucson businessman

2014-08-11T20:00:00Z 2014-08-12T09:36:13Z Street Smarts: Health food success for Tucson businessmanBy David Leighton For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

One of Tucson’s first health-food proprietors is remembered with a southwest-side street that bears his name.

Walter Bopp was born in Switzerland around 1902. In 1925, he left the village of Thun, where he had been a farmer or farm laborer, and headed to Bremen, Germany. There, he embarked on the S.S. Stuttgart for the U.S., intending to settle in Oregon.

Doing farm work, he made his way to California, and just prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he sent for his childhood sweetheart. Soon the young Englishwoman who had attended school in Bopp’s Swiss village arrived and that year, Walter and Mae married.

Any money he had saved apparently had been squandered in a get-rich-quick real-estate scheme, and at the onset of the Great Depression he was employed as a dishwasher. An offer to be a salad chef at the Pioneer Hotel sold him on the idea of moving to Tucson.

In 1934, Bopp Health Food Store, the first of its kind in Tucson, opened in a small downtown storefront, at 43 S. Sixth Ave. The shop sold items such as teas, grains, herbs, oils and supplements. Walter continued his job as a salad chef while Mae ran the store. After a few years, both began working, without vacations and through weekends, to maintain the only health food store in the Old Pueblo for a little over a decade.

In the 1930s, health food wasn’t part of the popular consciousness of America, nor was there much money in it. But the store had loyal customers, many of whom had relocated to Tucson on doctor’s orders that the dry climate would be good for their asthma, allergies, emphysema and other illnesses. When they came into the store, Walter advised them on nutrition and possible natural remedies. He also supplemented his income by supplying grain and cereal, in bulk, to ranchers.

During the 1950s, and throughout his time in Tucson, he was involved in real estate and mining activities. On Jan. 2, 1952, Bopp signed a petition with other land owners and interested parties to make an unnamed dirt path into a public highway. The Pima County Board of Supervisors established Bopp Road or Road No. 744, on April 21, 1952.

Around 1960, Bopp opened a second, much bigger store at 3838 E. Speedway, roughly where CVS Pharmacy just west of Alvernon Way now stands. By 1972, health food had become much more popular and the store faced new competition from other independent stores, such as Cher’s Market at 3319 N. 1st Ave., and the Sacred Toad at 612 N. 4th Ave., as well as from chain stores, such as New Life Health Center, 4841 E. Speedway.

In 1976, Walter and wife Mae divorced, and soon after he remarried a woman named Blanchie.

On December 5, 1980, at around 10 p.m., Bopp was beaten and tied up in the back of his Speedway store. He was hospitalized the following day, and died of heart failure and other complications from the beating on January 3, 1981. Three men, including his stepson, were later charged with first-degree murder and armed burglary, allegedly seeking $1 million or more in gold and jewelry that was believed to have been kept in the store.

Sources:

Special thanks to reader Christina Lomayesva for suggesting this street.

Calvin Trillin, “The Mystery of Walter Bopp,” The New Yorker, May 11, 1981

John S. Long, “Bopp dead; beating still a mystery,” Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 6, 1981

“City health-food pioneer is dead following beating,” Tucson Citizen, Jan. 5, 1981

Sheryl Kornman, “Eating Right Is Good Business,” Tucson Daily Citizen, June 3, 1972

List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States (Ship: S.S. Stuttgart, Departing City: Bremen, Germany, Date: April 18, 1925)

John S. Long, “Two arrested, stepson sought in Bopp slaying,” Arizona Daily Star, unknown date (newspaper clipping, author’s collection)

Land Deed from Walter Bopp to E.A. Staggs (Pima County Recorders Office: Bk 1084 Pg 511)

1936 Tucson City Directory

PCDOT Files

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