Old Neighborhood Grocery Stores

Neighbors share their photographs of OWD life in days gone by.


Magnolia Grill
Magnolia Grill (the original Wellspring Grocery location). For years, Floyd Wright operated a grocery on this corner (in the small frame building that now stands behind the Magnolia Grill -- facing West Knox Street). According to Tom Walker, long-time County Commissioner Dewey Scarboro built the existing brick building in 1947. Across the street from EK Powe School, Scarboro Grocery was a favorite stop for children for some 40 years. Mr. Scarboro closed his store in 1978 and an Old West Durham institution, Wellspring Grocery, sold its first produce through these doors. Today, this old neighborhood grocery store is home to one of the South's most acclaimed restaurants -- Magnolia Grill.

O Wide
This neighborhood store was located in the 2600 Block of Hillsborough Rd. and was operated by Mr. A.W. "Bill" Holmes from 1946 to 1949. The business was then moved across the street and continued to operate under the same name until 1986. Bill, always with a smile, would welcome his many customers. After school and on weekends, The Ideal Sundry was also a favorite meeting place for teenagers. Here with our friends, we could enjoy a cold soda, select a favorite "comic book" or buy anything from toys to chips.

Bill Holmes

Today, Bill is still recognized throughout the Durham area for his great tasting "Homemade Lemonade", that he continues to make on special request.

Special Thanks to Bill and Mary Anne Holmes from all of us who lived and grew up in West Durham. You have always been great "role models"!!

Garden St. Grocery

GARDEN STREET GROCERY: Mr. Connie Estes owned this store near Yearby Ave. located at 307 Garden Street (Formally Suitt Alley prior to 1930). Mr. Estes house can be partically seen on left side of photo.  John H. Tilley first leased the building from Mr. Estes and operated it as a grocery in 1926 and was in business here until 1938. In the mid 1940's, Ted Smith reopened the grocery under the name "Garden Street Grocery" and operated it until 1950.

Ted Smith Garden Street
Ted Smith

Afterwards, Waldo Mills took over and continued selling groceries here until approximately 1957.

The small wood frame store building, still stands today on Garden Street, although it’s been years since the sounds of a cash register could be heard ringing inside. Groceries were delivered by bicycle, on unpaved streets, to the residents of this mill community located near Duke University. (Courtesy of Wayne Smith)

Knox St.
This little-modified structure was Old Flowers Grocery -- run by Mrs. Flowers. Today it is a residence (Knox, corner of Carolina).


Jesse Morrow standing in front of Forrest Grocery Store on Rosehill in 1939. Forrest Grocery Store on Rosehill was just up a piece from Fent's hotdog stand. During World War II, Fent's Place moved to a spot on Hillsboro Road, between Doc Newton's Ideal Sundry and Rufus Ferrel's barber shop. Long-time resident Moe Utley recalls working at Forrest Grocery and Wallace Lumber Yard on Rosehill for 10 cents an hour. He also worked at Ideal Sundry for 15 cents an hour, delivering goods to neighborhood homes. Today, Moe is the only Kitty Hawk resident with an "Old West Durham" bumper sticker on his car.

Old Garrard's Grocery Store, 2606 Hillsborough Road (across from Greystone Baptist)

Built in the very early 1900s, this building has mostly served as a neighborhood grocery -- starting as Garrard's Grocery Store. Long-time resident Bill Holmes recalls Garrett's mule-drawn wagon that delivered groceries to the nearby homes in the West Durham mill village.

Haygood Grocery Store then occupied the building for many years. At one point the owners realized that a local ordinance stipulated they were too close to Greystone Baptist to sell liquor. The solution was to build a partition right down the middle of the store and punch out a second door out front. The new door was far enough away from the church to allow the sale of liquor.

A plumbing store was later replaced by a Chinese Grocery store for several years until it closed in 1985 (about the same time the mills shut down). A shop that printed tee-shirts (and offered shoe shines out front) operated for awhile before the building stood vacant for a period of time.

Over the years, different users of Garrard's Grocery had added stud walls and an eight-foot high ceiling to divide the space into numerous small, dark rooms. The original brickwork had been covered with stucco, and paneling had been installed over that.

Today, the old Garrard's Grocery is the home of Fisher Signs. Owner Mitch Fisher extensively restored the historic building. He removed all newer interior walls to expose 10-foot high tongue and groove heart of pine ceilings and sandblasted the stucco to expose the original brick. The efforts to restore this important neighborhood building led to OWDNA bestowing its "Pinhook Award" to Mitch Fisher for his inspirational efforts.


Grocery - Front
A snow-bound neighborhood grocery store, located at the corner of Knox and Alabama, 1957.

The same grocery store, 1987. It later closed, but has since been converted into a home (below) and it still retains a "Neighborhood Grocery" sign on the side of the structure to this day.

November 1998.

Jesse F.
The owner of the neighborhood grocery store, Jesse Morrow, in 1985.


Where Jesse stood: the same room today.


Historic Preservation Society of Durham's 2002 Neighborhood Conservation Award bestowed on Garrard's Grocery, 2606 Hillsborough Road

Once upon a time, for most people at least, there were no cars, refrigerators were unheard of and ice-boxes were doubtful, tiny affairs. In those days the institution of the neighborhood grocery story, just around the corner as it was, solved most people's food storage and mobility problems. Time, perniciously, moved on, however, and cars, refrigerators, deep chest freezers, supermarkets, Sam's and hanger-sized Costco stores have rendered the neighborhood grocery obsolete.

This leaves most older neighborhoods with a problem--what to do with the building which once housed the eggs, the canned goods, the produce, and the cokes in those little bottles. These buildings are everywhere throughout Durham -- often right in amongst the homes they once served. Usually, they can't be homes themselves -- although we've honored notable exceptions -- and they can't be retail shops again --zoning and neighbors prevent that. Sometimes, they sit empty and useless and sometimes new owners and new ideas bring new life.

Garrard's Grocery on Hillsborough Road was built in the early part of the century to serve the huge Erwin Mill Village that surrounded it. Mill workers passed it on their foot-bound journeys to and from work. Garrett's mule-drawn produce wagon ambled up and down the dusty streets. After Garrett's came Haygood's grocery. Haygood measured the distance from Greystone Baptist and discovered that his store was too close for lawful liquor sales. Ingeniously, he partitioned the building into two halves and put in a second door out front. This door was just beyond the line, and Haywood did a rollicking business.

When the grocery business moved on, the building went searching for a purpose. Such buildings can be dangerous for neighborhoods. New owners are seldom content to operate within the limited confines of an obsolete retail idea. They want bigger and better.

Fortunately for West Durham, Mitch Fisher acquired the Garrard's Grocery building, renovated it, and moved his sign shop and framing studio into it. The building has been much altered over time, but Mitch saved the remaining wood floors and bead board ceiling.

Mitch's business seems to be the perfect, low-key match for the neighborhood. In fact, he's a big supporter of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association. The prominent neighborhood sign at the corner of Markham and Ninth is just one of his gifts to his neighbors. We at the society mark his solution to the "neighborhood grocery problem" with a Neighborhood Conservation award.

Courtesy of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham

Wellspring Criterium (Bicycle race)
Years ago, Wellspring Grocery (aka Whole Foods) sponsored a criterium (bicycle race) that looped around Old West Durham, with the start/finish on Markham. The old Wellspring space is now George's Garage. Photo courtesy of Phil Marsosudiro.