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THE END OF AN ERA
On Wednesday March 23, 2016 Smith Drugs closed its doors. Its passing marked the end of Old Gastonia's retail history on West Main Avenue. This picture was taken from a series recorded just before the beginning of the removal sale of Matthews Belk department store on June 23, 1976 and appears in A Glimpse as It Passed: Scenes from A Vanished Gastonia, North Carolina, 1972-1992 published by Trenton Creative Enterprises © 2004.
T&T Supermarket (Tatham and Treadway) was an anchor of the Firestone Square (Greasy Corner) business district from the 1940s until the 1970s. Located on the southwest corner of West Franklin Avenue and South Vance Street in a building previously occupied by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P--until it relocated to the present site of the Sav-A-Lot Supermarket), T&T was the last (along with A.D. Blanton and Sons) of the several grocery stores that operated in the populous and busy old West Gastonia from the time of the Loray Mill's construction in 1900-1901. (The circa-November 1952 Gastonia Gazette article appears courtesy of Gail Treadway Elmore, T&T proprietor G.M. "Spoon" Treadway's daughter.)
Franklin Drug Store was established a short distance west of Loray Square/Firestone Square/"Greasy Corner" in West Gastonia at 1343 West Franklin Avenue next door to a McCoy Gas Station around 1920. In 1941 it was purchased by Mr. Henry C. Bell, a local pharmacist who had received on-the-job experience following graduation from the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy. He moved the business across the street to 1402 (currently the location of an automotive paint business) in the mid-1950s where it remained until it closed in the 1970s.
When on-street parking was eliminated on Franklin Avenue in the late 1960s (when it became "Franklin Boulevard"), much of the human scale and walkability of Gastonia's central traffic artery was replaced by what amounted to a six-lane freeway. If life is ever to return to the abandoned storefronts and under-utilized structures all along Franklin, on-street parking must be re-established. This is now possible due to the existence of three crosstown highways (Long, Garrison, and Hudson) that did not exist or did not exist as high-volume arteries when Franklin parking was eliminated. The City of Gastonia Planning Department has developed an interesting draft plan for the Loray Village area that includes reclaiming Franklin Boulevard as a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare.
(The picture of the Franklin Drug Store is from a c.1948 Gastonia Gazette article and was furnished by Mr. Bell's son-in-law Gary Dellinger. The link to the draft plan for the Loray Village area was used with permission.)
On a sunny March Sunday afternoon in 2009, after church and lunch with my mother (the primary inspiration for my love of Gastonia history), I rode over to Gaston Avenue to take some pictures of the old Gastonia Bottling Company building at Gaston and Firestone. To finish the roll of film, I turned to my right and snapped a quick shot of the old neon sign that once announced the location of Stowe's Florist to an almost unbelievably different "across the tracks," back when the Airline/Gaston Avenue area was full of life and vitality. I had the film developed and put the pictures in a box with hundreds of others. Life rolled on. Seven years passed. Mom is gone, the Gastonia Bottling Company building is gone, and Stowe's Florist is gone .
We often focus upon the big things of Old Gastonia: The Loray Mill, The Lawyers' and Commercial Buildings, and so on, while the small places that figure so prominently in our collective and individual pasts quietly disappear without mention or mourning. These are the real landmarks of Old Gastonia and of Old Anyplace. They are worthy of preserving in pictures, memories, and the oft-recounted stories of our lives.
Below are the pictures captured Sunday afternoon March 8, 2009 of the former Gastonia Bottling Company building at the northwest corner of North Firestone Boulevard and Gaston Avenue.
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