Austin Garden Center Closing After 87 Years In Business

Friday, August 28, 2009

Austin Garden Center is finally calling it quits after 87 years in business in Chattanooga.

Chad Norman, one of the three current partners, said next week will be the final days for retail sales at the landmark on Signal Mountain Road across from the entrance to Baylor School.

He said the store was doing well, but he, along with Mike Austin Sr. and Mike Austin Jr., just felt it was time they wanted to pursue different ventures.

"We have been talking about it for two or three years and now seemed the right time when inventory was low," he said.

Mr. Norman, grandson of longtime store manager Don Nicholson, said word was given months ago to the 7-10 employees. He said the closing was curtailed until all had found other work.

He said the family intends to keep the sizable property and look for another use for it.

Mr. Nicholson had retired from the store in 2007 after six decades there.

At about the same time, Mike Austin Sr. retired also, leaving the day-to-day running of the operation to his son and Mr. Norman, who was formerly in the landscaping business.

Mr. Nicholson’s connection to the store dated to when the late L.B. “Pete” Austin Jr. hired him to run the business so that Mr. Austin could spend more time concentrating on his real estate and other business interests. The store had been founded by L.B. Austin Sr., who died of a heart attack in 1945.

The store was at 428 Market St. with a warehouse at 1036 Carter St. when Mr. Nicholson started in 1946.
subdivision. The store had been founded in 1922.

In 1948, a second store was opened at 3462 Brainerd Road in an old icehouse building near Tunnel Boulevard. The Brainerd store remained in business at that site until 1960, when traffic became so bad that a new location was needed. The successful Brainerd Road store then became one of the first tenants of Brainerd Village. Austin’s was in Brainerd Village for about six years, until Sid Varner bought it and renamed it.

In 1951, to alleviate a parking problem, Austin’s decided to relocate to a corner building at 338 Market St., where drive-through service was offered. But not all the parking and public access problems were solved. ,
So, in 1953, they discovered that the old Log Cabin Milling Co, - owned by Dave Eldridge and Sam O’Neal – was for sale. The property, at 1724 Dayton Blvd., was still owned by Mr. O’Neal, so they bought the company and incorporated it into theirs. They also signed a lease for three years.

In 1958, two years past their original lease period, they completed a building at 225 Signal Mountain Road, where the path of U.S. 27 is now – just east of the current location. They had filled it in with some dirt brought from some property Mr. Austin owned off Dayton Boulevard, where Echols furniture is.

The store also decided to build up its offerings at that time. That is when it became a garden center and hardware.

Within a short while, the owners learned they were on the right of way for the planned highway, so in June 1963 the business moved into the current facility at 241 Signal Mountain Road. That building was a duplicate of the previous one.

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