And Now You Know: ABC stores offered groceries and service

Published 8:00 am Monday, May 13, 2019

By Mike Louviere

Orange once had grocery stores in nearly every neighborhood, from Kinard Estates to Cove.

Most were small stores that had the basic grocery needs, but once there were four that went past basics. They were the ABC stores that were owned by Tom O. Landrum for about three decades.

The first store that Landrum owned was located at 304 Fifth Street, next to Orange National Bank. This store burned in a fire in the mid-1950s. Ironically. about ten years later, the next block on the opposite side of the bank would be destroyed by fire.

Store # 2 was on the corner of Ninth and Park Streets. It opened in 1927 and was first managed by W.R.(Zeke) Gravett, later by Landrum’s son Valton.

Store # 3 was located on Second Street between Park and Cherry Streets it opened in the mid-1930s with Lovelace (Dub) McKinley as manager and John Blanda as the meat cutter.

Store #4 was the last to open and was located on the corner of Western and Dayton Streets in West Orange. It was managed by Landrum’s son-in-law, Raymond Hubbard. This store is still in operation today as Danny’s Grocery.

Store #2 was the flagship store. It had groceries, a meat market, bakery, prescription drugs, and a soda fountain. It also offered curb service.

Henry Crew managed the produce department while Ras and Pres McCelland were the butchers. The drug department was owned by Hunter Huddle of the Orange Drug Company, later purchased by Lee Roy Boehme.

Frank Zeto of Zeto Bakery delivered fresh bread daily before he went to school and again at noon and after school.

All the stores offered a delivery service.

Johnny Goodwin, who later became police chief of the Orange Police Department and was killed in the line of duty, was the delivery man.

Customers could either phone in orders or shop from the shelves in the stores. Their orders would be placed in boxes and stacked in the stores for delivery all over town.

Shorty McCelland ran a hotshot meat delivery service for Store #2.

Tom Levingston ran the same type of service for the produce department.

Other workers were mostly schoolboys hired for after school and Saturday work.

One of the big sellers of the stores was sugar in 100-pound sacks. Most of those who bought these big sacks were those who made beer and “hooch” during the depression years.

Sugar, beans, and rice came in 100-pound sacks and would be measured out in ten, five, four, and two-pound packages for customers.

Veal sold more than beef. It was raised and slaughtered locally.

The meat was cooled only by ice in the meat coolers in the stores. The butchers came into work at five in the morning and cut the day’s supply for their stores.

Chili was sold in condensed blocks, shown in display cases and sold for 25 cents per block.

Del-Dixi, the local cannery was the preferred supplier of green beans, blue label cut snap beans, and red label Kentucky Wonder Beans. Other items from Del-Dixi were mustard, turnip, and spinach greens and all kinds of pickles, okra, and fig preserves.

The boy who cleaned up the produce department at Store #2 offered a unique service. He would shell your peas or snap your beans, for a price.

In the drug department was a six foot long, three shelf display case with boxes of candy that sold for one halfpenny, one penny, two pennies, or nickel for candy bars.

Most students opted for the one half penny candy.

In 1946, a new service was tried. Flowers were displayed in a refrigerated case. The flowers were Canadian Pampas and spring flowers pre-packed in cellophane. After they were purchased, the stems would be cut and made ready for the customers to take home.

The idea was too far ahead of its time; it only lasted two months.

One day during the depression a small boy came into Store #2 with a note from his mother. He gave the note to the manager. The note said she and her family were hungry and had no money. She asked if there was a soup bone they could have. Ras McClelland, the butcher gave the boy a bone and Hy Crew of the produce department sent a bag of vegetables.

In about half an hour, the boy came back and said, “Mom says to ask if you have a bone with any meat on it.”

Three of the stores are gone from Orange, but if you walk into Danny’s today, and you were ever a customer in one of the four ABC stores, the atmosphere, even though the store has been modernized, will take you back to those long gone days.

“And now you know.”