Remembering the Kirk Supermarkets

Friday, January 22, 2010 - by Harmon Jolley
J.W. Kirk collaborated with Pruett's on this December 1, 1955 advertisement.  Click to enlarge.  Typical of most grocers, trading stamps were offered as incentives.  Click to enlarge.
J.W. Kirk collaborated with Pruett's on this December 1, 1955 advertisement. Click to enlarge. Typical of most grocers, trading stamps were offered as incentives. Click to enlarge.

Grocery stores keep getting bigger. When I was growing up in St. Elmo, there were still some very small stores such as Mrs. J.E. Jones and Scharf’s. The latter had a candy counter with those fake wax teeth, wax lips, and small wax bottles with multi-colored sugar water. I didn’t have much of a vision of the future worth of things; I bought some Beatles bubblegum at Scharf’s and enjoyed the gum but threw away the photo cards.

The next generation of grocers was represented by stores like the A&P, Goodlett’s, M&J, Pruett’s, and Red Food. They were usually located in brick buildings with large glass windows. It was someone’s weekly job to make advertising signs on large sheets of white paper, and then to paste them onto the storefront panes. The stores placed several pages of advertisements in the newspaper each week.

The Kirks – John William (“J.W.”) Jr. and Herbert Clay – were two local grocers who were part of the food markets’ rise beyond the mom-and-pop level. They were natives of Cobb County, and moved to Chattanooga in the 1930’s. In 1933, H.C. Kirk opened the Big Apple Fruit Store. He continued to label some grocery items with the name “Big Apple” over the course of his career in the grocery business.

By 1940, Herbert was the owner of two Fresh Food Markets, one 3607 Rossville Boulevard and another at 433 Cherokee Boulevard. J.W. was a clerk at the second store.

In the mid-1940’s, the Kirk stores went by the name of Kirk’s Supermarkets. Both men were listed in the city directory as owners.

The two added other stores by 1950, including 1302 East Main Street, 3952 Brainerd Road, 2207 Broad Street, and 426 Frazier Avenue. Kirk’s also had stores on each end of Ninth Street – one at 326 East Ninth and another at 402 West Ninth to serve the residents of downtown.

By the time that the 1960’s began, the two Kirks appear to have become competitors in the supermarket business. H.C. Kirk built Kirk Plaza between Twenty-Third Street and Rossville Boulevard, and opened a large grocery store there. After the building was destroyed by a 1964 fire, an even larger building was erected in its place. Four years later, however, Kirk Plaza was sold at auction. The site later became the home of Gibson’s Discount Center.

H.C. Kirk relocated to Titusville, Florida and became the owner of the one hundred acre Florida Wonderland tourist attraction. This was located at Indian River City. H.C. Kirk also continued his grocery career by becoming president of the Jewell Stores.

J.W. Kirk, meanwhile, had established his own grocery store at 2413 Fourth Avenue across from the East Lake Courts. Like many stores of its era, it was a red brick building with large plate glass windows. The business served the residents of the East Lake and Highland Park communities, as well as those from other parts of town.

The J.W. Kirk Grocery took on other names in future decades. In the 1970’s, it was called Kirk Food City, and in the 1980’s, it was the Time Saver Food Store.

Herbert C. Kirk passed away in 1978 and John W. Kirk in 1984. Both men would likely be astounded by the size of today’s super-sized supermarkets, and by the variety of products sold within their businesses.

If you have memories of any of the Kirk groceries, or of Florida Wonderland, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.


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