Sylacauga has some store buildings that have been in the same location for a very long time, but the store that is open there now is not the store that was open there in the fifties and sixties. One such store is Walco Grocery. I have passed it hundreds of times through the years, and today I stopped. I noticed the iron bars on the windows and that they no longer sell gas. The cashier was friendly and nice, informing me that the Danfords owned the store back years ago, and the Ivy’s before that. The store is now owned by Amant Patel. It is not a place to buy groceries, but it is a jiffy mart style store, making money on beverages and tobacco. One of the several customers who came in while I was there came in to use an ATM. It was once a place where Walco residents like Tom and Dick Bivin rode their bikes or walked to get a treat after swimming all afternoon at Lake Louise.
Remembering the curb markets of the fifties and sixties, Holmes Curb Market has to lead the list. It was at one time on 1st Street about where the television station is now. Then it moved to Broadway, and finally to Fort Williams. Mr. Len Holmes focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, but other necessities, bread and milk were often needed by people living in a society where stores closed on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons, and most at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. In that day somehow Mom always needed something from the store after it was closed. You know how it is today. Don’t you always get sick on the weekend when the doctors’ offices and pharmacies are closed?
A curb market that brought glamor to Fort Williams was Marcus Dunlap’s Fruit Bowl. It is the only curb market that I have ever seen with neon lights, and those of you who remember him remember that he was quite a fancy dresser who seemed to relish those attention- getting loud colors. Even with his flamboyant dressing, he was not as unforgettable to this writer as Mr. Len Holmes’ down home Southern smarts.
Of course, no one can forget Yonder’s Blossom; just say the name and most everyone has a story to tell. That site on First Street and Industrial Avenue was first operated by Mr. Coleman Thomas who later sold it to Mr. Dewey Gilliland. Tommy and Sammy Machen ran it after that. You could get watermelons, vegetables, worms, minnows, and even bags of coal for $1. In the days when I grew up, late forties, fifties, natural gas was not in Sylacauga yet, and there was a big coal pile behind the Blossom. They would even deliver by the truck load to the house if you so desired. Charlie would sack up those $1 bags. George Gilliland operated a Gilliland Grocery Store on North Broadway in the late 40’s-early sixties. He ran a Rolling Store out of the grocery store. Mr. and Mrs. Thrash (Doyle Thrash’s parents) ran the meat market at this store.
Often there are inquiries in this Marble City about the Marble Castle Grocery and Service Station on the Old Birmingham Highway. The uniqueness of the building was almost an attraction in itself, but it provided a real service to the people who lived in that area.
Out Oldfield Way there was Edwards Grocery and Farris Grocery. Marsha Miller Ellis recalls when she and Carol Motes rode horses to the back side of the pasture at Motes Stables and crawled through the fence, crossed the railroad trucks, and on to Farris’ Store up the road.
Hickman’s Grocery in Oldfield was run by Marion Hickman. There was Walter Lee’s Grocery on 3rd and Main. Janet Machen remembers her grandparents’ Machen Grocery on the Old Talladega Highway near Sycamore. Like other Mom and Pop stores, he allowed people to charge until payday, and the Machens often delivered groceries in his pick-up to people without transportation when the store closed on Saturday night. In the Fayetteville area there was Merrill’s, Barnett’s, and Edmondson’s Groceries. Argo’s was on the corner of Oakland and Pine Street. Bean’s Grocery was on Norton; Lee’s Grocery was on 3rd and Main. Jack’s Grocery on Fairground Avenue where the Thrift Store is now located was owned by “Jack” and Polly Jackson and other proprietors down through the years.
Near Lake Joy, across 511, was Harris’ Store, where Albert always greeted my boys with a smile even if they were only buying a candy bar. Down the road was Carl Culver’s store, Weather’s Grocery, and Roberts Grocery. Hawthorne Grocery was on the Montgomery Hwy. I cannot forget the “Blind Store” located in the Drew Court Area on Crestline Ave. The proprietors, Willie Lee Hughes, Frank Lee, and J. P. Macon were educated at Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega. According to Mr. Willie Olden and and Gregory Holtzclaw, they were assisted by local friends in the Drew Court neighborhood for transportation needs. Greg Holtzclaw laughed as he told me, “They could drive, but they could not see.” (There are plenty still like that on Highway 280.) They had an active business for cold drinks, snacks, etc. I well remember the kids and teachers at Drew Court Day Care who marveled at their ability to “see” so well in exchanging money for goods. How can they tell a $1 bill from a $5?
Forgive me, if I left out your favorite country store. Why even remember them at all? They are a part of our lives and our connections with each other and the past. They are wonderful reminders of that neighborly time when Mom and Pop ran the stores, not so long ago at that.
Special thanks to George McGraw, Bobby Holmes, Ray McDiarmid, Tom and Dickie Bivin, Marsha Ellis, Greg Holtzclaw, Willie Olden, Polly Griffith, and all of you who helped me remember.