Friend and fellow researcher, Lori Thornton over at Smoky Mountain Family Historian created a meme for folks to talk about stores they remember from their past that don't exist anymore. Her post on the subject really brought back memories.
Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the town square in Fulton in Itawamba County, Mississippi was a busy place, especially on Saturdays when families from the surrounding countryside came into town. Men clad in straw hats would congregate on the courthouse square during the summer where they would trade knives, talk politics and generally pass the time away. The stores around the town square would be packed with shopping families.
It was a simpler time before shopping centers and mega-stores when the merchants knew most of their customers by name, who their relatives were and where they worked. It was a time before credit cards and debit cards when running tallies of items bought on credit were written with a Number 2 yellow pencil in a notebook. Pictured above is a current view of two buildings on the town square that housed stores from my childhood. Gilliland’s Grocery was located in the gray building. I remember folks would call in their order and the groceries would be delivered to their homes neatly packed in pasteboard boxes. It was always fun as a child seeing what had arrived at our house from Gilliland’s. Cecil Whitesides’ store in the old A.J. Mattox building was definitely a treat to visit. Mr. Cecil was the son of Thomas E. Whitesides of Mooreville and great grandson of early Itawamba planter Major Whitesides. His store was where the locals bought their Tuf-Nut overalls, garden seeds and Red Goose shoes. The large old store with oiled creaky wooden floors was a dark place lit only by dim light bulbs hanging from the tall ceiling and the sunlight from a skylight above. The kind suspendered Mr. Cecil always carried around a flashlight on cloudy days for digging through the merchandise while finding just the right item for an inquiring customer.
Next door to Whiteside’s was one of my favorite stores – the Ben Franklin five and dime. This is where all the youngsters bought their Halloween masks, toys and trinkets.The store was literally filled with merchandise for the entire family. Everything from kitchen items to Evening in Paris perfume in cobalt blue bottles was sold by this popular store. Down the street was Grady Gaither’s store. The Gaither family in Fulton had been in the mercantile business on the town square since 1840. Mr. Grady’s store featured groceries, gifts and most anything else needed for the household. It was always nice to visit the store on a hot summer day and get a Royal Crown or Grapette soda from the old drink box filled with ice-cold water. Mr. Grady would remove your selection from the box, wipe the bottle with a towel and open the drink for you with a smile. His store sold some of the best hoop cheese and sliced stick bologna in the county. Next door to his store was the Rexall Drug Store that also served as the Greyhound bus stop.
I remember on the west side of the town square was the Fulton Café. Passing by this business establishment along the sidewalk, shoppers would be enticed by the drifting aroma of frying hamburgers and onions through the screen door. On the northwest corner of the town square was Senter Drug Company. This store was always a treat and their fountain counter featured some of the best ice cream and root beer floats.
Just off the town square to the south was the air-conditioned New Dixie Theatre (the old abandoned Dixie was just around the corner on Wiygul Street). On Saturday afternoons the theatre would be packed with kids for the matinee show. It was a place where kids in the small town and countryside could experience wild adventures in far-away places on the silver screen, costing only fifteen cents.
Today most of the old retail buildings remain on the town square of Fulton – only with new tenants. Once a retail center, the downtown area today is composed primarily of service businesses and offices. As of late, more retail establishments have been moving back to the town square and this is good. The town square is simply the heart and soul of a community.