The mom and pop grocery stores of yesteryear will always be memories in the hearts of those who operated them and the customers who traded with them. Ezekiel’s Grocery at the Quarry was one of those stores. Several other Sylacauga families whose names you will recognize were in the grocery business in the Gantt’s Quarry community. The picture of the store that is shown here was taken several years after it closed in 1979.
Danelutt’s Store, according to a March 1992 article by Sylacauga historian, Bill Edwards, was opened in 1920. Franz Danelutt bought two houses and a store building at the quarry. He opened a grocery store in the building and rented the houses. He and his family lived in back of the store. He and his wife had three children: Tranquilo (Hunky), Angelo( Babe) and a daughter, Elis. Franz worked also as a waxer at the marble quarry, so the grocery store was a family affair. It stayed open over 30 years. In 1946 he rented it to Buddy and Lelia Ezekiel, but continued to live there . Buddy Ezekiel went into Clyde and Mary Dobson’s grocery store to sell him some fresh Gulf seafood. Dobson, who had been thinking about retiring and devoting more time to his stone business, did not buy the seafood, but sold his stock and fixtures to Buddy. He and Lelia used it operating Ezekiel’s Grocery. The pictured store building was built in 1950 by Richard Conn across the street from Danelutt’s store. Conn sold it to Buddy and Lelia Ezekiel. Richard Conn was the father of Fred Conn, whose boys still operate Conn Equipment in Sylacauga.
Many of you will remember the Ezekiels and their children, Lester and Sharron, who attended Sylacauga High School. A horrible robbery occurred at the store on August 16, 1977, and Mrs. Ezekiel was stabbed 31 times. In those days before cell phones she lay on the floor until the assailant left the store. The only phone was a pay phone for customers to use, so she deposited a dime and called for help. Mrs. Ezekiel recovered; but this incident had a deep impact on all of the family; so much so that their son, Lester, continues to be an advocate for crime victims in our state through a non-profit, VOCAL. Mrs. Ezekiel was known for her kind spirit and continued to contribute to the quality of life in Sylacauga, but the store was closed in 1979. This store, as well as many other mom and pop stores, provided part-time work to local high school students. Lester Ezekiel continued his friendship down through the years with one of these, Jimmy Harris, popular SHS student who worked for them and later for the Conns as a crane operator and finally became a registered jeweler in north Alabama.
Another store that was mentioned to me by many of you was Southside Food Store on South Norton Avenue. It was operated by the Turner family at one time. Barry McAnally remembers riding his bike there to pick up quick items needed by his Mom, Jettie. Mary Lee Brown remembers it as a go-to place for the folks on Elm . A couple of reliable sources (Betty Aarhaus and Ray McDiarmid) remember Lon and Martha Crawford operating it for a short time. Mr. Crawford was an excellent meat cutter for Kwik Chek/Winn Dixie for years. A kinder, gentler man could not be found, and Mrs. Crawford was a wonderful Christian lady, active at First Baptist Church. Portia Jacobs and Harriette Mathews Spigener added memories of this store.
Webster’s Grocery on South Main Avenue was mentioned by many people. As a child in fourth grade, Lewis Simpkins, my favorite teacher of all times, allowed the clarinets to walk to Webster’s Grocery and get a Drumstick (speciality ice cream) when we learned to play the piece of the week without too many squeaks!! He furnished the coins. This master teacher was strict and sometimes gruff, but he loved his students and knew how to make learning fun. A wonderful Black couple, Rudolph and Vera Varner, later operated South Main Grocery in that area. Ms. Vera also worked with children as a teacher’s assistant at Drew Court Day Care. She was a wonderful co-worker and friend.
Well, I would guess that by now you are thinking that I strayed from my subject matter, but remember the name of this column has to do with remembering. Remembering is always about people more than anything else; so when I get some historical “facts” wrong as you remember them, just know that I research all that I can; but I also talk with people who tell me about their lives. Until I go to the store again, focus on kindness and love, like Mom and Pop did in these neighborhood stores, and not so long ago at that.