In the 1950s and 60s, my mother, Leota Cox, and Carrie Bowman (wife of Lester Bowman) made numerous grocery visits to Cloyd E. Litle located at 1927 W. Walnut Avenue. It was our favorite grocery.
Recently, I located a newspaper clipping from 1987 with photographs that gave further details concerning the business. Former Johnson City, Press Writer, Karen Roberts composed an article titled, “The Last of a Buying Breed.”
What used to be the telltale ring of a bell against a door in the store signaled business. They traded talk and tales; business was good, but that would change.
Convenience markets on every other block and mammoth supermarkets were snuffing out the small neighborhood groceres where the last of a buying breed spend their money.
While the hours were long, the profits small and the customers few, there were still people like Litle and Jim Killen who whiled away the hours in business, if not bless.
Ironically, when 74-old Litle was a teenager, he carted water from a nearby creek to help mix the mortar and lay bricks for the building he now owns and operates as a grocery at the corner of west Walnut Street and Embreeville Road.
He opened his store whenever he took a notion and closed it and when he got and ready to, he would tell customers. I'm here every day. The door isn't open on Sunday, but I'm always doing something.”
Litle had been a grocer since 1947 after fate and a plane crash set him in a wheel chair. When the State of Franklin Road moved in, Litle's store and stock moved out and down the road to the building he already owned.
For Mrs. Killen, a desire to be her own boss and a lack of enough money to open a restaurant put her in the grocery business about eight months after she left Arizona to Open Kim's Grocery on the corner of Virginia and Virginia and Franklin streets.
Her store was the epitome of the family-owned and operated grocery. While she was at the store for most of the 14-hours, seven-day-a-weeks, her husband and co-owner, Randy, helped out part-time, as did her brother-in-law.
Litle said a lot of familiar people, including “the hot stove league” during the winter, saunter in from time to time to exchange conversation.
“Mrs. Killen said she saw mostly familiar faces from day to day since those within walking distance make up a large part of her clientele. Every now and then, someone entered the store with whom they were not familiar, she said.
For Litle, running the store was both something to do and a way to get rid of his merchandise. But for Mrs. Killen, it was a livilihood, and the one that had been immensely profitable.
“It's been tough,” she said. “We haven't been in it a year yet, and we figure we've got to give it a year to make something of it and start making money,” she said. “Back when I went into business,“ Litle said, “there were various little stores here and there around the city, but unfortunately they just faded away.
Mrs. Killen said she was surprised that any small stores existed any more because of the big discouragement of competition. “I don't see how you can get ahead.”
While it takes mainly common sense to run the store, it takes dollars and cents to keep it open. Wholesalers don't give you a break. That's how bigger stores make their money, by buying in volume, but a small store can't do that.”
For Litle, keeping the store open or closing it, was also a wait and “see thing” that depends partly on whether the value of his property increases because of development around State of Franklin Road, which only time would tell.
I'm glad I patronnized several “mom and pop” grocers over years, the main one being West Side Grocery across from where the Pepsi Cola Plant once stood.
If any of my readers have pleasant memories for favorite grocer stores, please sent them to me and tell me what made them so special.