Remembering The M&J Supermarkets

Thursday, March 27, 2008 - by Harmon Jolley
The store at 1308 E. Main Street from 1954. Click to enlarge.
The store at 1308 E. Main Street from 1954. Click to enlarge.

When I was growing up in St. Elmo, a fun weekly event was to go grocery shopping with my mother and grandmother. Although St. Elmo had a few remaining small grocery stores, we usually chose between two supermarkets on South Broad Street. They were the Red Food Store (later acquired by BI-LO) and the M&J, which I thought should be the Green Food Store because of its signage, S&H Green Stamps that it offered, and proximity to its competitor. Well, it made sense to me at the time.

The April 17, 1961 Chattanooga Times had an interesting biography of M&J co-founder Millis Fred Mulkey, Sr. He had grown up on a farm at Tunnel Hill, Ga. "There never seemed to be an end to the work," recalled Mr. Mulkey. A plowing issue with a stubborn mule convinced him to move to Chattanooga. He got a job with the Roly Reds, a local home-delivery grocery service.



Meanwhile, Chatsworth native J.H. Jackson had been working for the wholesale grocery firm Ragland Brothers since the 1930's. He had previously taught school for three years. Mr. Jackson came to Chattanooga in 1935 to take a job as bookkeeper with Ragland Brothers.

In 1952, the two men founded the Mulkey and Jackson Supermarkets, which was associated with Ragland Brothers. Millis Mulkey was president, wife Jewell Mulkey was vice-president, and J.H. Jackson was secretary-treasurer.

The original M&J stores were much smaller than today's supermarkets, but larger than the corner groceries of the early 1950's. The 1953 Chattanooga directory listed these locations:

1308 East Main Street
406 Frazier Avenue
439 Cherokee Boulevard
2207 Broad Street
3952 Brainerd Road
4104 Ringgold Road

Grocery prices were much lower in 1952 than today, though wages were also lower. The Dec. 2, 1952 Chattanooga Times contained an M&J advertisement which showed specials on bacon at 45 cents/pound, Martha White Flour at 10 pounds for 95 cents, and locally-packaged Fleetwood Suparomated Coffee for 82 cents per pound.

As M&J built its customer base, it was able to expand into larger stores in greater number. The May 12, 1957 Chattanooga Times announced that a new store at Brainerd and Belvoir would be twice as large as the existing Brainerd store. Construction of I-24 in 1960 meant relocation of the South Broad Store which was next to Crombie's Funeral Service. M&J opened its eleventh store in 1965 at Hixson Pike and Ashland Terrace.

M&J supported its growth through training and automation. The April 27, 1966 Chattanooga News-Free Press reported the store's training program for cashiers which was carried out through the adult education program of Chattanooga's public schools. Computerized pricing systems were implemented in 1969, and product price-scanning in 1978, starting with the Signal Mountain store.

Consolidation has been common in the business world, and grocery stores are no exception. The April 30, 1967 Chattanooga Times announced that M&J was purchasing the local Home Store chain for one million dollars. M&J continued to grow, and by 1969 had three stores in Huntsville, Alabama.

By 1978, M&J operated stores at these locations:

* 1308 East Main Street
* 3956 Brainerd Road
* 4104 Ringgold Road
* 4355 Highway 58
* 3317-21 Broad Street
* 4001 Hixson Pike
* 1210 Taft Highway (Signal Mountain)
* 804 Scenic Highway (Lookout Mountain)
* 6925 Middle Valley Road
* Chattanooga Valley Drive

The March 9, 1979 Chattanooga Times reported that M&J, too, would be part of a consolidation by being acquired by the local Pruett's Food Town, Inc. Pruett's closed some M&J's, including the South Broad location where I had gone as a child. I remember that I returned as an adult to take advantage of some deeply-discounted food items. Our 1974 Ford Pinto was maxx'ed out with groceries as we headed home.

Prices had increased a bit since the store's founding in 1952. The Dec. 6, 1978 Chattanooga Times reported these prices: hamburger was now 99 cents per pound, bread was 55 cents per loaf, and a 10-pound bag of Idaho potatoes was 99 cents.

If you have memories of the M&J, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.


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