The Legacy of Len Holmes
A window of opportunity is part of the American dream. Some say, “Strike while the iron is hot!” You can be rich, poor, Black, White, male, or female. If you are visionary and can see how your talents and abilities can provide for people something that they need, you can provide it and make a good life for yourself and your family. It involves work, make no mistake about that, for work comes before success every time except in the dictionary.
Len Holmes, a sharecropper from Coosa County, was very savvy about marketing principles, a visionary with very little formal education. He was at first a peddler, taking his goods to various neighborhoods where people wanted seasonal fruits and vegetables but could not get to town every day. He took advantage of shift changes at Avondale Mills as well as peddling house to house in the mill village and on Thomas Hill.
Then he parked his truck on the corner of Broadway and First Street in Sylacauga ; but when the city passed an ordinance that peddlers could not park on the street, Mr. Len obliged them by making a more permanent structure on the corner where the television station is located now. It was made with six tin poles and chicken wire, but business was still good. Across the street facing Calhoun Street was the old hospital.
It was a new era in America, post-World War II. The first supermarket was started about 1946, but those stores did not stay open on Sunday or Wednesday afternoon, and during the week they closed at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. If people needed milk or bread, the curb market became the place to go. Mr. Holmes saw opportunity knocking and moved to Broadway where Family Dollar is now located. This store with its sawdust floors sold all the produce he could bring from the Farmer’s Market in Birmingham where he traveled three days a week in a ton and a half truck. If you were around in those days, you may remember the sawdust floors, the stalks of bananas hanging there in the store front and the watermelon piles calling customers to stop as they traveled Broadway. Len’s son, Bobby Ray Holmes, who operates Holmestead Farm today, remembers that his Dad sold some 4,000 watermelons one July for the Independence Day holiday. Mr. Woodie Knight owned this property; and when Hills Grocery wanted to move from Broadway and Second Street to this location, Mr. Knight offered Len Holmes the same deal that he offered Hills, but it was beyond his means at the time.
When one door closes, often another opens as it did when Marcus Dunlap who had opened a fine curb market on Fort Williams called The Fruit Bowl went bankrupt about 1955. Mr. Holmes bought the store, and he and his family moved from Coosa County to the living quarters above the building and operated Holmes Curb Market there until he died in 1971. Eating healthy is a renewed effort today, and knowing where that food is grown and how long its travel road has been is a part of eating healthy. Today Bobby Ray Holmes operates a fine U-Pick Farm in Clay County where he grows “might near anything you would want” as the old timers might say. He comes to the Sylacauga Farmer’s Market every Friday beginning in June and through the summer, but it is a real treat to drive out to the farm with your family or a school group. You can also buy jellies, jams, baked goods, honey, etc. The people are friendly and welcoming, and you just might learn more about the history of curb markets in Sylacauga and the legacy of Len Holmes.