Grocery stores have always been about products (supply and demand), people, and service. The mom and pop stores of the past provided the things that people could not raise on the farm, and they raised just about everything. People even did spinning and weaving at home. As cities were established and grew, people left the rural areas and a market for farm products sprang up.
Mrs. Carolyn Lutrell in her writings about early Sylacauga history noted after that first Lanning Store at the corner of Fort Williams and Main was established, a Mr. Poe built a store for the area to the north, and the father of John Milton Hightower built a store to the south. Items like matches, a dozen in a box for 50 cents, calico 10 cents a yard, and stick candy, 6 cents a pound were popular.
Bobby Ray Holmes, son of longtime Sylacauga curb market operator Len Holmes went into the wholesale grocery business and served most of these stores with fresh produce. Sylacauga Wholesale Grocery, located in alley behind where the paint story is today and later where Farmers Furniture Store is located was owned by Mr. Jack Pitts. Lane Wholesale Grocery, located in the alley behind the Woolworth Building and later on the Brickyard Road, was owned by Mr. Tom Lane. These two supplied many of the Mom and Pop grocery stores in this area with groceries. Bobby’s lifelong experience with his Dad’s thriving curb markets made him a natural to open a wholesale produce business. Bobby has a phenomenal memory of Sylacauga history, and compiled a list of grocery stores he remembers and served in 1959-60; he listed 37 of those for me. I also got a quite extensive list from Ray McDiarmid, longtime pharmacist and store owner of Dixie Drug. These two fellows dispel the theory that people who get old have poor memories because they are a treasury of facts about Sylacauga. I cannot mention them without mentioning their work ethics, making a good living at what they enjoy doing, and still working way past the time when they could have retired.
A special store from the past is White’s Super Market which was located in the Avondale Mills village. Mr. Howard White would deliver groceries for customers who called in their orders. When my mother-in-love could not drive, and all the children had left home who could take her to the store, she regularly used White’s Grocery. He collected for the month’s groceries at the end of the month. Debra Hornsby remembers how he cared about his customers because when a relative was in Drummond Frazier Hospital, they called from the store to check on her. What was done because of necessity, came around again in 2020 and 2021 when the big super stores were encouraging pick-up orders because of Covid.
Another store remembered by many in the Mill Village was Collins Grocery on Scrouge Alley. Prentice Collins was the owner and his children were Chester, Bobby, Herbert, and Carolyn. Ruth Nabors Collins was Jim Nabors’ sister, and Chester was her husband. They left Sylacauga to follow Jim to California and then Hawaii when he hit the big time. Other memories from the Mill Village were of Barton’s Grocery at the end of Twin Street. These early grocery store proprietors were good, hardworking, honest people. Grady Barton was longtime Sylacauga educator, Virginia Penton’s Dad. Rick Morris remembers Elvis Thornton at the butcher there. Mona Hickey remembers the kindnesses shown people and how your grocery bill might be totaled on the brown paper bag that contained the goods. At Riggins Grocery on Scrouge Alley Grady Riggins sold loose crackers from a barrel just as that very first Sylacauga store did. It was said that he would loan kids “show” fare and add it to their parents’ bill. (I am assuming that this was done with parental permission!!) Incidentally movies were shows or picture shows. Walco Grocery served that area of the Village near Walco Hotel and Lake Louise.
I think the meat markets at these small stores were such a plus, and sometimes it was the butcher who attracted the customers with good sausage, white meat, bacon, etc. Anyone remember that good cheese these small groceries had? When we first moved to Sylacauga from Spanish Fort, my Mom worked for Lybrand’s Grocery on Buttermilk Hill. Mother later worked for A&P, and the Winn Dixie Stores, including Kwik Chek and Jitney Jungle. She was very knowledgeable about the best cuts of meat, and she could cut a steak just like you wanted it, and cut up a chicken as fast as a cat could blink its eye. You could get whole fryers cut-up at these store: and fried chicken dinners at Grandma’s house was just that, not all white meat as it often is today. Another Buttermilk Hill Grocery was Beasley Grocery.
As usual I have run out of space long before I ran out of stories, so come back next time for some good stories from Sylacauga citizens about grocery stores in days gone-by, but not so long ago at that.