Friday, August 2, 2013

Neighborhood Stores


One of my fondest memories of the neighborhood where I lived as a child, and where my parents spent much of their childhood in the 1930's and 40s, is how many businesses there were in our little neighborhood. Back then, there were several grocery stores, a hardware store, a barber shop, a beauty shop, a drugstore, and a gas station. A walk home from school would pass a church or sometimes two.

My earliest memories of these stores is of the special occasions when my Great Uncle would hold my hand and we would walk to a little store at the end of the block. These little stores held such treasures, but we would always buy a pint of ice cream. Then we would walk back home, Uncle holding my hand and the brown paper bag in the other. He lived on a busy street and Uncle always instructed me to hold his hand tightly before crossing the street.


While we were out, Auntie would clear the table and wash the dishes. When we got back to their house, Uncle would give the bag to her and she would remove the paper box containing the ice cream and put the square block of ice cream on a plate and slice it into three pieces. Each of us would have a slice of ice cream on our plate and we would sit at the little kitchen table and quietly enjoy our treat. I had never seen anyone else slice ice cream to serve it, but somehow the little slices of ice cream on a little floral plate made it seem even more special.

 When I started school, I walked to school with my next door neighbor, Harris Irwin. Going to school was a pretty straight forward walk of about six blocks and Harris' job was to make sure that I crossed the streets and the railroad tracks safely. I enjoyed walking with Harris because even though he was in the third grade, he was always nice to me.

Walking home was completely different. All of the neighborhood stores were open and no one was there to be sure that I did not deviate from the prescribed route. I usually walked more or less straight home. I waited for the school crossing guard to tell us when we could cross the busy street in front of the school. As soon as we stepped from the street to the sidewalk, we were standing at the door to the drugstore and out of the watchful eye of the crossing guard. Since my Uncle Curly owned the drugstore, I was always welcome, although I think that everyone was welcome back then. The drugstore sold a little bit of everything and had a soda fountain on the back wall where you could purchase hamburgers or milkshakes and charge them to your parents. The best part was the candy located beside the cash register. You could run in, buy a piece of candy and be back out on the sidewalk in under a minute. Although, I usually settled for a piece of penny candy, you could buy a Hershey's bar for a nickel. The candy bars were huge back then! This is not my imagination, this is a fact.

I continued my walk home sometimes passing a grocery store or two and being content just to stop and look in the windows.
Chicamauga Market

For a long time this was Mr. and Mrs. Byerly's grocery store.  Mr. Byerly had a huge chopping block table, in the back and he was the butcher. When you told him what you needed, he would cut it to order and wrap it in white paper.

Eual Proffit's store was on the next block after you crossed the railroad tracks. It was a very nice and friendly store and he had twin daughters that were about my age. Then walking down to the next corner, I turned at the Baptist Church to walk the rest of the way home. You had to be very careful the next two blocks because there were no more sidewalks and no more stores.

At the end of the school year, my family moved and there were no more neighborhood stores until I moved to Fort Sanders when I was in college. Fort Sanders is a neighborhood near the University of Tennessee and I would say that people either loved it or hated it. I loved it. There were sidewalks and little stores, students, old people, poor people and there were still a lot of families too.

Little Grocery stores dotted the Ft Sanders neighborhood. I joined the other mothers pushing their babies in strollers to the store to buy groceries or stopping for ice cream on a walk.
Passing old people and students walking along the worn and cracked sidewalks of the busy tree lined streets made me feel quite a home in this bustling neighborhood. The stores had changed in the decade that had passed.  They were crowded with narrow aisles and shelves lined with a few basics and a lot snack foods and beer. The old single lights that had hung from the ceiling were replaced by harsh florescent bulbs. The Hershey's candy bars were smaller and cost more money, but nothing was nicer than walking along those streets on a warm autumn afternoon. The gold, red and yellow leaves provided shade on the still warm sunny days and the clear bright blue sky that we only see in the fall was so clear that you could see the mountains in the distance.

These businesses all disappeared in the following decades, as the University and the hospital expanded, tearing down block after block of family homes forcing the families out of the neighborhood and the remaining residents were forced to shop in suburban supermarkets, malls and big-box stores.

Today, there are no more grocery stores in the neighborhood, just a few empty buildings, but their memory remains.

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