“The music goes zoom zoom; The drummer goes boom boom; And everybody shouts, Hurray for Valleydale; Hurray for Valleydale; All hail, it's Valleydale. (cymbal) Valleydale sausage; (cymbal) Valleydale wieners; (cymbal) Valleydale bacon; Zing, zing, zing, zing, Valleydale; Hurray for Valleydale; All hail, it's Valleydale.”

In 1956, Valleydale Packers, Inc., located in Salem, VA, sought a way to make the public keenly aware of its meat products. They devised a clever animated television commercial featuring cute cuddly pigs, dressed in band uniforms, singing about Valleydale products. People all over the area soon fell in love with the little curly-tailed critters and began harmonizing the commercial’s snappy tune. It became one of the most recognized television ads in East Tennessee history. 

The little hogs eventually appeared in 12 different television commercials, one humorously known as the Green Bay Porkers. Perhaps the most recognizable one was a 30-second clip of eight charming little swine marching in a parade to the approbation of a cheering crowd lining the streets.

The first two pigs carried a large drum and one played it. A third porker rode on top of it pounding cymbals. The fourth and fifth piglets trailed behind with one poking the other in the head as his trombone slide went forward and backward. The sixth one was modestly stretched out on a Valleydale float. Next came pig #7 marching and playing cymbals with a different meat product displayed with each clash – “Valleydale Sausage, Valleydale Weenee, Valleydale Bacon.” The final hog, an adorable little baton-twirling majorette, performed for the crowd and simultaneously displayed additional meat products. 

A second commercial was almost identical to the first but featured a few different frames, such as having the pigs alternately march forward, then backward and forward again. This time, only six pigs were featured.

In a third ad, three little piggies are escorted onto the framework of a large building riding a narrow I-beam, being hoisted by a third little pig who precariously let each one off at a different floor. One pig initially threw hot rivets to the other pigs and then predictably switched to tossing Valleydale products to them presumably for lunch.

Another commercial featured a five-piece pig jazz band, consisting of a trumpet, Sousaphone, piano, trombone and drums, playing the all-familiar little Valleydale refrain.

A fifth ad shows a customer entering a meat shop operated by one of the Valleydale pigs. When he asks for just any brand of bacon and sausage, the angry proprietor gives him a stern lecture by asking him why he would take a chance on buying a questionable “pig-in-a-poke.” The patron mistakenly asks him, “What is a poke.” The owner abruptly pops him onto the floor, but immediately revives him with some tasty Valleydale bacon and sausage. 

The irony of the commercials was that pigs were advertising themselves. Perhaps the cheerful parade was a cleverly orchestrated diversion to get the jovial swine to march to the slaughterhouse at the end of the route.

The Valleydale advertising campaign was eventually phased out. After returning to television for a brief revival some years later, the little hoofed creatures squealed off into “hog heaven.” The music stopped going “zoom zoom”; the drummer stopped going “boom boom”; and there was no longer a cheering crowd to shout, “Hurray for Valleydale.” It was the end of a colorful, memorable era of yesteryear. 

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A Monday, July 27, 1925 Johnson City Press-Chronicle contained a unique full-page advertisement that caught my attention. The main title said, “Try The Drug Store First.” The premise of the ad was to get patrons to subscribe to the idea that a drug store sold much more than drugs, a concept that carries well over to today. 

Downtown Johnson City had its share of pharmaceutical dispensaries. In addition, most of them had fountain service where the customer could sit down at a counter or some small booths. I recall numerous such establishments from the late 1940s thought the 1950s. People were not for lack of choices of druggists within a short distance of the downtown business district.

One of the most popular was Liggetts (257 E. Main at Roan). This two-story brick building was known as the King Building with “King” and “1907” visibly engraved across the top of it. Farther west down the block was Cole Rexall Drug Store (233 E. Main), later becoming Revco. Opposite this business on the south side of the street was Peoples Drug (216 E. Main). Going west from Peoples Drug was Jones Vance Drug (Main and Spring). Diagonally across from it on Fountain Square was Anderson's Drug (201 E. Main, advertised as “The Convenient Corner”).

Just around the corner from Jones Vance was Snyder Jones Drug (100 Main). Traveling west on Market across the railroad tracks was Market Street Drug (134 W. Market, “Your Rexall Store”). Further down the block was Chambers Williams Drug (200 W. Market at Boone). Continuing west several blocks brought you to Wilson Pharmacy (273 W. Market at Watauga). Motoring up Roan Street past Junior High on the right revealed Hospital Pharmacy (602 N. Roan).

One of the last holdout survivors in the downtown area after the business district fell on hard times was Liggett's, but it too eventually closed its doors. Wilson Pharmacy successfully moved to Walnut Street and Revco relocated to North Johnson City.

Each firm had its specialty. My favorite spot in Liggetts was the candy counter just inside the store to the left. Cole had really good hamburgers with the option of adding slaw to them. They also made good malts and delicious milk shakes. I vividly recall a smiling Guy Wilson and a large comic rack at Wilson Drug. 

There is a story from my family that proved the essentiality of these early establishments. It involved a good deed performed by my great uncle, Elbert Bowman, in the late 1920s as recalled by one of his sons, Weldon. My uncle, Stanley Carroll, a young boy living along Gray Station Road in Gray Station, once contacted a bad case of the flu that rendered him very sick and weak physically. 

Late one evening, Dr. McCollum, a well-known local country doctor, was called to the Bowman home to examine the lad. After finishing his examination, the doctor pushed back from the bed where the sick boy lay and just sat there in deep thought. He then proceeded to write a prescription, handed it to Elbert and told him to get Stan some much-needed medicine as soon as possible.

The nearest drug store was in Johnson City so Elbert and Weldon got in the family’s Model A Ford and drove to the nearby town. When they got there, it was approaching midnight. In spite of the late hour, they were able to locate a pharmacist, get him to open his store, obtain the medicine and expeditiously return to Gray Station and a sick little boy. According to Weldon, Stanley “snapped right out of it,” thanks to Elbert Bowman and an unknown Johnson City pharmacist of yesteryear.  

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Over the years, my parents patronized Beckners’ Jewelers in downtown Johnson City, so I suppose it was only natural for me to buy my wife’s engagement and wedding rings from Buddy Beckner in 1970.

A 1927 Johnson City Chronicle article gave the history of this now defunct business, reading almost like an advertisement. The clipping’s title was “Jewelry Story Established in 1886, Still Going Strong and Now One of Leading Emporiums of the Section.” Mr. I.N. Beckner opened “The Red Front Jewelry Store” in the small village of Johnson City in 1886; it remained in operation for nearly a century. The location was said to be near what is now Fountain Square, which at that time was occupied partially by the railroad station and the jeweler. Beckner occupied a small section of a building used as a livery stable.”

Some old city directories show that the company was initially located at 202 E. Main, future site of the Hamilton National Bank building, and later moved east to 232 E. Main, where it remained until its closing. According to a 1913 city business brochure: “This business has been successfully established for 27 years, surely long enough for everyone to know the absolute trustworthiness of the house. The public has always taken a kindly interest in this good old house.”

A 1915 Chamber of Commerce book further stated: “The stock carried (in the store) consists of the best selections of watches of all makes, sterling and plated silver, fashionable jewelry and other goods usually found in high class enterprises of the character. They do fine repairing and engraving and are the time inspectors for the Southern and CC&O railroads.”

The Chronicle article went on to say that T.F. Beckner, eldest son of I.N., grew up in his father’s business doing minor work and soon became proficient in all departments. Over time, the Main Street business bore three similar designations: I.N. Beckner Jewelers, I.N. Beckner and Son Jewelers, I.N Becker’s Son Jewelers and lastly, Beckners’ Jewelers. James Beckner, another son, joined his brother in 1919, becoming a partner and actively engaged in its operation. The article mentioned C.C. Mullins and Delno E. Diddle, Jr., two store employees from that era.

Upon the senior Beckner’s retirement, the business was assumed by T.F., who continued it using the name of I.N. Beckner’s Son. The senior Beckner remained associated with the store until his death about 1926.

The store’s ideal location in the heart of the retail business center made it a convenient place for shoppers. It became known for its elaborate and eye-appealing window displays that attracted many patrons. The store carried the famous old line of Seth Thomas clocks and had two models in the store that were over 100 years old and still running, confirming the longevity of the product. Hamilton, Gruen and Elgin watches were also featured brands, as well as many other nationally known makes of jewelry, cut glass and similar lines.

An ad from 1936 says “A Best Seller – The Hamilton Dixon – 17 jewel Hamilton accuracy and dependability in a case of 10K filled gold for only $37.50. No wonder the Dixon is a best seller.”

Beckners’ Jewelers closed its store in late 1985 when the owners, who were approaching retirement age, decided to call it quits. The decline of the downtown area and an uncertain business climate were dominating factors in their likely painful decision.

Ironically, the store’s demise was just months shy of its 100thbirthday. 

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Janelle Walker Warden, former area resident, shared memories of growing up in the Gray and Sulphur Springs community where her family lived from the early part of the century.

Over time, the Walker family operated several grocery stores in nearby Sulphur Springs run by J.W. Walker, Bob Walker, Maynard Walker and Herbert Walker, Janelle’s father. The competition included Lige Adams, Sid Martin, Boyd Gray, Frank Pitts and Tom Slagle.

According to Janelle: “Tuesday was the day that my dad went to Johnson City to get supplies for our first country store and to trade butter, eggs and whatever he could get. He drove his store truck around Sulphur Springs, Gray and Harmony to pick up grocery lists from residents, after which he filled their orders and delivered groceries to their homes.

“Before Daddy went off on his store route, he always got some crackers and put brown sugar and cheese on them. Yummy, what a treat that was.   

“We lived in the back of the store in an area comprised of two bedrooms and a long kitchen leading to a back porch. Out in the back yard were the outhouse and a shed.  We routinely cleaned the store floor with some type of oily material. I recall the men sitting around the store listening to Joe Lewis fights on the radio.”  

Janelle said that her father attended the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, leaving his wife and young daughter behind with only $30 to run the store: “Daddy grew up on a farm on Douglas Shed Road on land acquired in 1870 from the Bacon family. He and Mother lived in the store at Sulphur Springs until about 1936.  

“As a young child, I pushed myself in a stroller up to the store’s olive shelf and helped myself to a jar. I loved olives and the juice. When I was learning to read, I read aloud in the store with customers around. It is no wonder that I later became a librarian.” 

The grocer’s daughter vaguely recalled gas pumps out front under an extended porch roof. She said her father sold gasoline there during the food and gas rationing years of World War II. She never dreamed that this would become a history-making event.

“I lived in the store when I started first grade,” said Janelle. “The school bus stopped there and several children got on for the ride to school.  Daddy would not open the store on Sunday. We had to go out on Sunday afternoons after church because people would come by wanting to buy something. 

“Daddy and Uncle Shim operated the second store that Tom Slagle later owned. It was located on Bacon Road across from Payne Meat Company. Years later, Ben McCracken, while still a teenager, drove the grocery store truck on Saturdays to pick up orders for people around Gray and Harmony.

“One of my favorite memories is dipping ice cream at our second store for the crowd who stopped by after activities at Sulphur Springs High School.  Today when I eat a cone of it, I think about the time when I learned to dip it and a smile always comes over my face. That was when cones cost a dime or a quarter.

 “Our second store had an upstairs where the McCracken and Uncle Bob and Trixie Walker families lived when they ran the store.  In the back was an icehouse that I later used for playing school with my cousins and neighboring children. I still have the ice tongs that we used for picking up ice as well as the scoop for dipping into the sugar barrel.

Janelle reflected on her life growing up in Sulphur Springs with these pining words: “It brings tears mixed with smiles. Our land, homes, furniture, utensils, recreation and work were all a part of making me what I am today.”  

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During the late 1940s, I recall seeing young men in downtown Johnson City selling a weekly national newspaper with the curious title “Grit.” These salesmen stood at busy locations, typically the corner of Spring and E. Main streets and along the front of the old City Bus Terminal at Buffalo.

A Grit newspaper in 1932 consisted of a regular size newspaper and 8.5 x 11.5 “Story Section” insert. The 28-page tabloid contained seven mostly “to be continued” stories aimed at different ages and both genders; two full page cartoon strips, “Bringing Up Father” and “The Bungle Family;” a column titled “Poems – New and Old Favorites;” and numerous ads. The successful Williamsport, PA newspaper recruited boys from across the country to peddle its merchandize in the bustling business districts of yesteryear.

An ad from the same 1932 Grit newspaper reads: “Boys – Sell Grit – Earn Cash, also a watch, rifle, glove, wagon, knife, scooter and many more free prizes. Fellows, you can have a paying business of your own by selling Grit on Saturdays. Over 19,000 boys are now making money and winning prizes. Besides their free prizes, many of them earn $1 to $5 every Saturday.”

A second ad from the news publication further stated: “Grit is easy to sell. It contains the news of the world, 150 pictures, comics, sports, a wonderful Story Section and many other intensely interesting features that delight the entire family. We give you a newsbag free.” A notice inside the paper was aimed at obtaining steady customers: “Send us $2 and your full address and Grit, together with the Story Section, will be sent to your post office or delivered by your mail carrier 52 weeks without further difficulty.”

In order to recruit young street vendors, the business published small 12-page comic books, such as one titled “Grit Will Help You As Nothing Else Can!” The storyline involves a young man receiving a leadership award from the local Boys Club. His friend Joe, envious of the lad’s recognition, decides to improve his skills by becoming a Grit paperboy. The results are quite predictable. After becoming a successful Grit salesman, Joe likewise receives a leadership award from the club and earns enough money to go to camp.

The booklet mentions six distinguished men who acknowledged that their Grit selling experience helped them along the road to success. The most recognizable celebrity was singing cowboy star, Gene Autry. Each Grit “salesboy” wore a hexagon shaped bronze-colored pin on his shirt to identify him as being an “Authorized Salesman.” After selling papers on the street for a week, carriers filled out a weekly sales report and returned it to the company, along with cardboard coin cards containing money collected that week.

The brainchild behind Grit was German immigrant Dietrick Lamade, who began publishing it in 1882. The entrepreneur was not satisfied with just selling papers; he wanted his product to brighten readers' lives with news focused on happiness, optimism, peace, cheer and contentment. Conspicuously absent was pessimistic and negative reporting.

Lamade’s recruits were said to have learned valuable lessons in honesty, integrity and perseverance. Grit sales figures went from 100,000 in 1900 to 300,000 in 1916. Grit is still around today but is now published as a magazine focusing on contemporary country life.

The young eager males hoping to get rich by selling Grit newspapers at downtown street corners of heavy pedestrian and automobile traffic flow have long since vanished from the American scene. 

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Between 1956 and 1964, I routinely patronized McElyea Shoe Repair and Harness Shop at 127 Spring and Jobe (now State of Franklin Road). The owner, Robert McElyea, repaired my damaged or worn-out shoes while I patiently waited in a chair in my sock feet.

The still-standing two-story white building had never known anything but the harness business. C.W. Seaver built the structure in 1907 after learning the trade in 1896 from his half-brother, George C. Seaver. The businessman previously ran a harness store on Spring Street where the Cherry Street parking lot is now located.

Seaver arrived in Johnson City in 1873, when the population was 250 people. Stepping-stones were positioned at strategic locations on Spring and other streets so pedestrians could cross from one side to the other without trekking through mud or dust. Harness shops were popular sites for social gatherings. Farmers brought produce to town to sell or barter, picked up needed supplies and then assembled at the nearest harness shop, usually congregating around a big pot-bellied stove swapping tall tales and exchanging local gossip. All the while, the ladies shopped in the surrounding downtown stores acquiring sundry items such as calico, ribbons and grocery staples.

During the usual chitchat, Seaver was busy fitting teams of horses with harnesses that would stand the rigors of fully loaded wagons traveling over crude unpaved narrow roads beset with potholes and rocks. The owner was known to occasionally become stern with patrons when he found a horse with blemishes caused by an improperly fitted harness. His distinctive trademark was a circular belt with these words in the middle: “C.W. Seaver, Harness Maker.”

Business opportunities abounded in infant Johnson City from a variety of sources – traveling circuses, young boys with goats hitched to small wagons and downtown peddlers employing dogs to pull their carts. In 1903, the building of Soldiers’ Home (VA Center) brought about a boom in harness business when as many as 100 teams worked on a single grading job.

With time brought progress. Electric lights, paved streets and fancy automobiles slowly arrived on the scene. Although the primary mode of transportation was altered from four-legged horses pulling buggies to four-wheeled cars, it did offer one distinct advantage for leather workers. People could then travel long distances in modern vehicles to harness shops without having to depend on their animals to get there. Even with reduced demand, there was still enough business to sustain the business, at least for a while.

In 1945, 81-year-old C W. Seaver sold the shop to his nephew, George F. Seaver, who ran it another 10 years. Robert McElyea took over the reins of the operation in 1955. Fittingly, the new owner almost immediately added shoe repair to his menu of services in addition to his harness, saddle and bridle work. He had learned the trade by working at a harness and shoe repair shop in Elizabethton owned by a Mr. Riddle. Robert acquired much of the store equipment as part of the sale agreement, including two old tables that dated back to 1907. 

On Tuesday, March 30, 1976, after nearly 21 years of service to the city, McElyea said “whoa” to his downtown profession, closed and locked the front door of his store for the final time. It symbolically and sadly represented the end of a nostalgic era. 

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There was a time in Johnson City history when produce stores and stands were bountiful with such names as Burbage, Lowry, Sell, Deck & Noe, Gilmer & Garland, Street & Dougherty, Tittle, B&B, Lacy, Willis, C.W. Lane, McKinney, Tri-City, Garland, Kelly, Bond, Crouch, Miller, E&T, Ben Garrison (bananas) and Hicks (tomatoes).

Without question, the one I recall the most from the 1950s was Earl Hicks Produce, located at 124-126 W. Market at Commerce and adjacent to Guy’s Restaurant. My great uncle, Walter Bowman, and his son, Shirley, worked there for years. Almost every time I strolled past the stand on my journey to town, I stopped and conversed with Walter.

Boones Creek resident John Hughes fondly recalls his association with the businessman: “I never worked directly for Earl,” said Hughes. “I was an independent driver along with Bob Chandley; cousins, Bill Hughes and Lindsey Hughes; and my brother, Raymond. We hauled tomatoes exclusively. Earl employed 30 people plus kept nine smaller store trucks in operation.

“Pat Bryant was Earl’s buyer. He went to Patterson, CA every September 15 for a couple of months and bought tomatoes, eventually working his way south and back east. My job was to follow behind him and bring back to Johnson City the tomatoes he bought. Over the next eight months, I drove to Laredo, TX; Humboldt, TN; Homestead, Fort Pearce and Immokalee, FL; and Beaufort and Lady Island, SC to pick up tomatoes.”

Repacking operation at Hicks Produce, John Hughes is shown at the right

John related how Pat often bought all the tomatoes a farmer had long before they were grown, that being his way of getting quantity and locking in the price. The store needed a minimum of 36,000 pounds of green tomatoes coming in each day between Sept. and July. John alleged how Earl would occasionally go to a fruit auction in Moultrie, GA and bid two or three times the going price, identifying him as a serious buyer and causing sellers to take notice of him.

Earl rented a temperature control storage facility on E. Fairview in the Carnegie section close to the railroad that he used to insure that his tomatoes stayed cool and did not over ripen. Even during truck transports in hot weather, drivers had to frequently stop for ice and use a fan to circulate air in the truck.

 According to John: “Earl had what we called a repack operation at his Market Street store, which separated ripe and partially ripe tomatoes from green ones. As tomatoes were fed onto a conveyor belt, workers positioned on each side of it removed unripe ones and placed them in a storage cooler. The remaining tomatoes continued to the end of the belt where they dropped through one of several different sized holes, allowing tomatoes of the same approximate size to be shipped to customers. These tomatoes were then repacked and delivered to large supermarket chains all over the northeast.

“Earl closed the store every year, between July 4 and Sept. 15, which corresponded to the time homegrown tomatoes were available locally. This gave the workers a much-needed vacation and me the opportunity to make other truck deliveries.”

John fondly recalls the time in 1955 when Press-Chronicle writer, Dorothy Hamill, interviewed him in a back alley off Commerce Street soon after he arrived at the produce stand with a truckload of tomatoes. She had a Press-Chronicle photographer take his picture while in his truck and then featured him in an article for the newspaper.

John concluded: “I really enjoyed hauling tomatoes for Earl Hicks between about 1952 and 1958.” That was a half century ago. 

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A lady recently showed me two pre-1915 long narrow tin advertising signs that she found attached to the back of a cabinet that her father built years ago. One contains the words: “Peirce’s Quality Shop, Ready to Wear Garments for Men and Women, Men’s Furnishings, 109 Buffalo Street, Johnson City.” The other one is for “Pedigo Co., Waists That Fit, Shoes, 259 Main Street, Johnson City.”

While brief facts are available for Pedigo Company, Peirce’s Quality Shop is not found in any of the available city directories. I conferred with Norma Myers, resident history sleuth and director of ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia, to see if she had anything to offer regarding the two stores. She replied: “Pedigo’s was listed in the 1911 city directory but not the 1908 one. Edward S. Pedigo was president of the company, his residence shown to be Bluefield, WV. L.W. Oaks was Vice President and J.T. Hall was Secretary-Treasurer. Mr. Oaks’ home address was also listed at 259 E. Main, indicating that he lived upstairs over the enterprise.”

Although 259 E. Main does not exist today, older city directories reveal a renumbering of the businesses along the north side of Main at Roan, indicating some building changes occurred along that end of the block. According to a 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication, Mr. Pedigo owned the early Johnson City business and another one in Bluefield, WV. He managed the West Virginia operation while Oaks and Hall operated the Johnson City one.

The Chamber’s report further states: “Pedigo Company is one of the good firms of Johnson City, the location being at 208 E. Main Street (second location and future site of the Hollywood Shop). The business has been established for some six years. The Pedigo Company handles all kinds of men’s and boys’ clothing, shoes, hats and gents’ furnishings. Goods of high quality and the best manufacture only, are handled, and the prices are altogether reasonable. There is genuine satisfaction in dealing with the firm, and Messrs. Oak and Hall, who are always to be found in the store, take a kindly interest in customers and desire to please each and every patron.”

The garment business was in operation between approximately 1909 and 1928, closing probably as a casualty of the Great Depression. Ms. Myers then directed her comments to Peirce’s Quality Shop: “The first time that anything shows up in the city directory about ‘Pierce’ (different spelling) is 1921. In that directory, it shows ‘Pierce & Pierce, first class shoemakers and repairers, 106 Buffalo.’ The owners are listed as William C. Pierce and Rex D. Pierce. The company was still on Buffalo in 1931.”

In 1921, 106 Buffalo reveals Pierce & Pierce and 107-109 Buffalo housed the New York Bargain House (clothiers). In 1928 and 1932, 109 Buffalo was shown to be A&P Tea Company with Pierce & Pierce still doing business at 106 Buffalo. In 1935, the shoe firm was still in business with Rex listed as the sole owner of the establishment.”

Norma was perplexed that the tin sign shows Peirce’s Quality Shop at 109 Buffalo and the directory reveals Pierce & Pierce at 106 Buffalo. The Archives director and I conclude that the two businesses were separate and that “Peirce’s” was short-lived and not shown in available city directories.

Thanks to a local lady’s generosity in sharing two old tin signs, another chunk of Johnson City’s nearly forgotten colorful past has been spotlighted and examined.  

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Williams Grocery, once located at the northeast corner of Unaka and Oakland opposite Stratton School, served neighborhood customers for 28 years. Bob and Myrtle Williams started the business in 1938, taking over the former site of (Elbert) Lowe’s Grocery and running it for 13 years.

Williams Food Market

When Bob passed away in March 1951, son and daughter-in-law, Lee and Dorothy Williams, assumed ownership and ran it another 15 years. Rosalie Odom, Lee’s sister, recently provided me with some old photographs of the store and arranged for me to talk to her brother about the business. Lee is particularly proud of the store’s reputation for high quality meats.

“We bought meat that had been grain fed for 6-8 weeks before slaughter,” said Lee. “We then trimmed the fat from it and aged it for another two weeks before selling it. We bought U.S. prime and choice beef from such suppliers as Rath, Hormel, Kingan and Swift. Lee recalled working at his father’s store each weekday after Junior High School and on Saturdays; stores were closed on Sundays then. He said that during the war years his father had difficulty getting enough workers because so many men were in military service.

The future storeowner initially delivered groceries on his bicycle that was fitted with two large baskets. He traveled up to about eight blocks from the store serving customers mainly on Fairview, Myrtle, Watauga, Unaka, Holston, the Gump Addition and adjoining streets. “I later began driving my Dad’s Studebaker to make deliveries,” said Lee. “At first, I drove it without a license. The store clerks filled the car full of groceries before I arrived there from school. My first job was to distribute them. “It was not uncommon for someone to order a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk or two RC Colas and two Moon Pies. We filled almost all requests. Those were simple and different days.”

Lee Standing by His Studebaker in Front of His Business

Gary Thomas worked at the store from 1959-1960 while attending Junior High School. “I had the privilege of doing a lot of different jobs,” said Gary, “such as sweeping floors, stocking, cashiering and cleaning up in the meat department. I have many good memories of my days there.” 

Randy Taylor worked at Williams Grocery about 1964 and recalled something unique about the operation: “They extended credit, which to my knowledge was not offered by any other major grocery store. This dovetailed nicely with home delivery service. “The employees at that time were Mildred Berry and Wanda Cade, cashiers; Ralph Evans, butcher; George Minnis, produce manager; and Earl Smith, delivery truck driver. My mother, Mildred Taylor, and one of my aunts, Sue Goff, worked with Aunt Dorothy in the bakery from time to time.  You would have to go a long way to find a better group of people to know and work with than those individuals.”

I quizzed Lee as to why they closed in 1966. He responded that large chain stores, such as the A&P at Chilhowie and Roan, were rapidly coming on the scene and offering cheaper prices to customers than smaller grocers could charge. They simply could not compete. Another factor that led to the store’s demise was that too many people were buying on credit and not paying their bills promptly.

Randy recalled something Lee once told him: “Son, one of these days you will look back at this time of your life and say ‘boy I had it made.’” I think many of us can reflect back to our special yesteryears and express that same cherished sentiment. 

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In 1948, I was weak and frail after recovering from rheumatic fever that had confined me to bed or a chair for almost a year. Now I was finally permitted to engage in limited outside activities. I soon had a chance encounter behind our apartment with the neighborhood bully whom I will call Billy. This little obnoxious terror quickly branded me as easy prey for his shoving and tough talk. 

I quickly found myself turning into a “Walter Mitty,” the main character of James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” This timid individual spent much time daydreaming about what he could never carry out in real life. In his fantasy world, the protagonist was a daring fighter pilot one moment and a football star the next. I soon began seeing appealing advertisements in comic books and magazines promoting the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Atlas was billed as “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.”

Two separate ads from that era stick in my mind. Perhaps the most memorable one was titled “The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac,” consisting of seven comic strip frames. Atlas is shown along the right side of the ad flexing his bulging muscles, while wearing a pair of short leopard skin briefs.

The first frame depicts Mack, a skinny young man, and his pretty girlfriend sitting at the beach on a blanket under an umbrella. A bully muscleman runs past them and slings sand into their faces. Mac tells the intruder to stop kicking sand on them. The brawny intruder informs Mac that he would smash his face were it not for the fact that he was so skinny that he would dry up and blow away.

To add insult to injury, the girlfriend says to him in frame 3, “Oh, don’t let it bother you, little boy.” Frame 4 displays an angry Mac who is sick and tired of looking like a scarecrow. He abruptly sends off for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. In frame 5, a muscular Mac stands in front of a mirror admiring his newly acquired physique. This means another trip to the beach and another encounter with the bully. The outcome is quite predictable. The final frame shows the now well-built Mac walking along the beach with his girlfriend and being admired by beachgoers. He has become an instant hero.

Another advertisement is a five-frame version of the first, but with identical results. Joe overpowers the bully and receives praise from his girl: “Oh Joe, you are a real he-man, after all.”   

Charles Atlas, whose real name was Angelo Siciliano, was born in Italy in 1892 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. Supposedly, Angelo experienced a “sand in the face” experience while he and a lady friend were at Coney Island. The embarrassed 97-pound weakling vowed to become a muscle man. Thus began a lucrative career for him and another entrepreneur by selling their Dynamic Tension bodybuilding course to millions. The business continues to this day.

In my Mittyesque fantasy world of 1948, I pictured myself as a very young fully developed Charles Atlas, wearing leopard skin briefs and unmercifully beating the stuffing out of Billy, all the while receiving a thunderous appreciative ovation from my neighborhood buddies.

In reality, my Bully Billy problem was corrected over time without throwing a punch. The two of us got older, eventually rendering us friends. My once pressing need for Walter Mitty or Charles Atlas became passé. 

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