Historic building on auction block
Published 8:47 am Thursday, September 10, 2015
One of downtown’s older buildings and two adjacent vacant lots will be auctioned off Saturday at 10:30 a.m. by Rainbow Realty.
The building and two lots are located on East Elk Avenue in Old Town near the Monument. The building, which more recently housed Betsy Floral Shop, holds many fond memories, especially for residents of the Cat Island community. For many years, it was known as Chambers Grocery.
Landon and Annie Chambers operated the grocery store from 1924 to 1947. In the beginning, it was known as Smith and Chambers Groceries and General Merchandise. Chambers’ partner was J. Alec Smith, a former Elizabethton city manager.
Chambers and Smith before entering the grocery business ran a commissary for a logging company in Lennox, Ky. They returned to Elizabethton in the mid-1920s and opened the grocery store. Chambers later bought Smith’s part of the business, and the store became known as Chambers Grocery.
Chambers also served as commissioner of education for 12 years for the city of Elizabethton.
Before the era of big box stores and retail grocery chains, there were several small locally owned grocery stores in downtown Elizabethton. They operated until the early 1950s. The only chain store was A&P, which opened downtown in 1929. Later, Anderson Supermarket opened on E Street and Smithdeal’s opened on Stateline Road.
Among the other grocery stores in the downtown were Colvin’s Market, across the street from Chambers Grocery, the Little Bear, Donald Davis’ Grocery,and Dave Frazier’s Market, located by the railroad tracks where the Veterans Wall of Honor now is.
Chambers Grocery offered delivery service twice a day. During the Depression years Chambers helped many people by accepting county script and giving credit to those in needs. His wife also cooked and carried food to those in need.
Mrs. Chambers was also known for her delicious pies, which she generously shared with many in the town.
Apartments were located over the grocery store on the second floor. At one time, the Chambers’ son, L.D., Jr. and his wife, Martha, lived in one of the apartments. L.D., Jr. also helped in the store some. L.D. and Annie were also the parents of three other children, Jack A. Chambers, Helen Juanita Hathaway, and Giles Edward Chambers.
Mrs. Georgia Berry, who grew up in Cat Island remembers well Chambers Grocery. “That’s where we’d stop in and buy a bottle of pop or a penny piece of candy,” she said. “We’d buy suckers, jaw breakers, bubble gum, peppermint and licorice sticks. It was all good,” Georgia shared.
One of her fondest memories is when her younger brother, James “Bo” Campbell crawled under the fence and wandered off down the street to the grocery store. “Mr. Chambers called Mama and told her Bo was at the store. By the time she got there, Bo had eaten a banana and several grapes, which Mama had to pay for,” Georgia said with a chuckle.
Jim Bishop, another Cat Island resident, remembers delivering Mr. and Mrs. Chambers their Star newspaper when they lived on Fourth Street. He also remembers the large stalks of bananas, which hung in the store. “It was a neat place with its old wood floors and counters. All of the stock was on shelves around the walls and on counters. Many items were sold from barrels or other containers,” he said.
Often the grocer would get the items the customer wanted and write up a grocery ticket for them.
Dorothy Rasnick said her family usually did their grocery shopping at Dude Bradshaw’s store in Cat Island. “He was my uncle, but sometimes when we’d be in town, we stop in at Chambers Grocery and buy a piece of candy or a bottle of pop,” she said.
“I especially remember the ice cream freezer. It was round instead of rectangular. That’s where they kept the small Dixie cups of ice cream,” Rasnick said.
She noted that around the corner from the grocery store was the old STAR building, Elizabethton Steam Laundry, and North Funeral Home.
Located two doors up from Chambers Grocery in the vacant lot was the old Capitol Theater. “I remember well the theater. I worked there when I was in high school,” Rasnick said. She told tickets and concessions.
“The ticket booth was located outside the theater. When I sold concessions I stood just inside the entrance. We were taught to say, ‘Do you need anything to eat or drink?’” she said.
Jim Bishop also remembers the Capitol. “I helped install the seats when it was built. It was the nicest theater in town when it was built,” he said.
The Capitol was built around 1950 and operated only a few years. At the time it was built, there were three other theaters in town – the Bonnie Kate, Ritz, and the Grand.
According to a 1962 City Directory, the Capitol Theater building was vacant at that time and was still vacant in 1969. The building later burned.
The building next to Chambers Grocery at one time was owned by T.T. Hughes, who had a plumbing supply business. It has been used by numerous businesses, including an industrial supply company and as a diner.
The Betsy Floral Shop, which closed earlier this summer had been in business at the Elk Avenue location since 1951. The present owners of the business, Vest Green House, moved the floral shop business in a building adjacent to the green house in the Laurels Community.
“This is a wonderful piece of property as well as the two lots beside it. It’s located in the historic part of town across from the Covered Bridge and close to the Monument and Courthouse. It’s very rare that a piece of property as historic as this becomes available,” said Judy Veeneman of Rainbow Realty. Some of the fixtures inside the floral shop as well as a walk-in cooler will sell with the building.