Chester Martin (And Tim McDonald) Remember The St. Elmo Grocery

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 - by Chester Martin
Section of St. Elmo near the Incline
Section of St. Elmo near the Incline

Folks, let me confess here at the very beginning that these are the memories of my newfound (and much younger) friend, Tim McDonald. He has lived in that first of Chattanooga suburbs and knows the people and places he mentions first-hand. The following are his own words.....

"Before supermarkets and on-line shopping became the norm, many communities featured small, family-owned grocery stores that served not only as food markets but as community centers and gathering places. I remember many of these 'mom and pop' grocery stores in St.Elmo. If I 'walk' through the community in my mind's eye from the incline to the Georgia state line, I can 'see' many of these vividly.

"In 'downtown' St.Elmo, one could find Thornbury's Market at near Old Mountain Road where Mrs. Mae Thornbury offered groceries and meats for many years in a white brick building. Over near the old Incline Drug Company, there was Mrs. J.G. Jones Grocery and at one time there was a Home Store located across the street from Mrs. Thornbury's store. Further south between 45th and 46th (just south of the Baptist church) there was a store that was operated by Mr. Rush Baker, I believe. A small store sat at 46th and Tennessee Avenue, as well, and at 4702 St Elmo Avenue, my grandfather, B.L. Millican, operated a small neighborhood grocery for several years after closing his produce business in the old Market House (Patten Parkway). I clearly remember how some customers would call in orders (the telephone number was 821-2931) to my grandfather. He would put together the cans, meats, vegetables, etc., in bags and a young man by the name of John Jackson would deliver the orders by bicycle. Mr. Kurz Miller operated a store across the street on the southwest corner of St. Elmo Avenue and 47th Street and he and Mrs. Miller lived in a small house at the rear of the store, as was common in those days. Mr. Tom White operated a grocery store at 49th and St. Elmo Avenue for many years and I well remember Martins' Food Market at 49th and Beulah where Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Martin sold groceries for many years.

"There was a small store at 54th and St. Elmo that I believe was operated by Mr. Adams and further south a small Red Food Store stood on the west side of 55th and St. Elmo Avenue. Diagonally across the street stood a large store that was operated by the Thueler family, and, of course, the D&W Food Market originally operated by Wesley Phillips and Dewey Bass stood at 55th and St. Elmo. There was also a small grocery on the west side of St. Elmo Avenue midway between 55th and 56th Street that was operated by Mr. Holder, as I recall. Most of the stores stood on corners at which the local buses stopped and often residents of the community would step inside and visit while awaiting transportation downtown.

"These stores provided convenience and conversation as well as serving as businesses for their owners. They remain the source of fond memories in a world in which the shopping experience has become too impersonal and too mechanized to suit me".

Tim McDonald is the author of those above lines, and he has promised to write even more about his authentic St. Elmo memories very soon. I will only add the following to Tim's story: My mom used to take me to visit an elderly friend of HER mother's, Miss Laura Hendrix, and younger niece every summer back in the 1940's. The younger niece had a daughter about my age, then 10 or 11, although we had grown up together. We would always cook up a picnic (which I anticipated with great pleasure) - and one of the highlights was to buy a large bottle of ginger ale, and possibly a large bag of potato chips. Miss Laura lived on 45th Street, and I believe that the store we frequented was south on nearby Tennessee Avenue. Small businesses did not yet have air conditioning back in the war years, so one or more floor fans might be needed to cool the temp a degree or two, or at least make the air circulate. In the warm air your nostrils met the pleasantly pungent aroma of fresh meat and vegetables from the moment you opened the screen door and went in. Fortunately, the cold drinks were kept swimming in a box of melting ice, though plenty cold enough to carry home for the big picnic! And THAT is what kids of my generation called fun back in the 1940's!


Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at

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