An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

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Andrew T.
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An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Andrew T. » 09 Sep 2016 23:16

Since my local library provides me with access to Newspaper Archive, I've been entertaining myself lately by doing a little research on landmarks and retail stores here and there...including those in West Virginia, where I used to live. That's how I found this:
kroger-beckley-unified.jpg
This Kroger store was located in Beckley, and opened on March 11, 1959. It had a street-facing rectangular sign, similar to the ones jutting above the entrance doors of some of the other stores in the chain hailing from the same time.

But my, what an unusual building! The roof and storefront were arched, like those on a Safeway, Penn Fruit, or Kohl's store. You can also see a flat-roofed wing for the entrance that was accompanied by a decorative "quarter-arch" meeting the main roofline at a V.

The windows are just a small strip along the bottom of an opaque wall, making the store seem cheaper and less attractive than it could be; more like a quonset shack than a Safeway marina. Nevertheless, I'm extremely intrigued, and I had no idea that Kroger had ever built anything like this.

The sign is also visible in this 1974 photo, by which point a SupeRx drugstore had been added to the property:
kroger-beckley-741014.jpg
There's one huge constraint on my knowledge, however: I have no idea where this store stood.


* The address given for this property was 307 Valley Drive (or North Valley Drive, as the case may be). This street no longer exists: Near as I can remember, it was renamed Robert C. Byrd Drive in the 1990s.

* Except, there's another complication: All the address numbers on Robert C. Byrd Drive today have four digits, not three. So Beckley may have gone through a address numbering system change at some point; at least on that street.

* Furthering the point, if I punch "307 Robert C. Byrd Dr" into Google, it comes back with a location north of the city where no retail development existed in 1959 (and scarcely any is today). I doubt the store was there.

* The Crossroads Mall is relatively close to Google's location, but it opened in 1983. I can find references to SupeRx surviving at 307 Valley Drive as late as 1992...so they couldn't have torn down the 1959 Kroger and acres of adjacent retail and built the mall on the spot.

* A Kroger Superstore opened at the Raleigh Mall on July 2, 1974, but it did not replace the Valley Drive store. Both locations are listed in period ads as being open simultaneously.

* The Beckley newspaper archives cut off after 1977. So, they're of no help at offering any answers.



Where was this store, and what was its fate? I wish I knew. Your guess is as good as mine.

As a side note, I will say that pinpointing locations in Appalachia is absolute madness. Nothing outside of city downtowns is on a grid, and the roads curve, meander, and wander in every direction. Address numbers have a tendency to get reassigned, or float from one number to another...if locations are given any address number in the first place. Quite often in rural areas they don't, and directories and ads will list a store by the road it's on, the post office it's assigned to (which may not even be nearby), and nothing else.
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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Steve Landry » 10 Sep 2016 09:11

Andrew,

I hope you do not mind but I wanted to compliment you on your writing style!

It's awesome!

Cogent
Organized
Fluid

And most important, so very easy on the eyes to read!

Thanks!

:-)
The Food Fair Empire

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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Andrew T. » 10 Sep 2016 13:44

Oh...why thank you! :-)
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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Groceteria » 10 Sep 2016 14:46

Let me see what I can find via the street address directory in some older Beckley city directories. More to follow...

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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Groceteria » 10 Sep 2016 15:00

My guess is here: https://goo.gl/maps/W9R5ZobwWTv

Dollar General at 2970 Robert C Byrd Dr. It's about a block from where it "should" be per the city directory, but I'm 95% certain this is it.

BTW, the city directory lists a "Dillon's Super Market" at 313 in 1960, which would be ironic on several levels if it were the same building, though I know it's not that Dillon's. 1960 is the latest one available and it could very well reflect what the building was in early 1959. If it were taken over from another retailer, that would explain the uniqueness.

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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by Andrew T. » 10 Sep 2016 18:08

Thanks for checking the directories! I suspect that you've found the building: The Dollar General has the same barrel roof visible in the vintage pictures, and the same angled alignment with the street. It looks like it's been built onto on the front and side, though this may not be new: The configuration could have been changed many decades ago when SupeRx was added.

I went back to hit the newspaper archives, and discovered some interesting information.

First, about preceding supermarkets: A W.C. Lucas Super Market opened at 313 Valley Drive on June 29, 1951. The Lucas name seems to have disappeared by the end of 1952, and in 1953 this newspaper notice appeared:

"ROY DILLON, of Beckley, has purchased the Houchins' Super Market, at 313 Valley Drive from R.L. Houchins, of Mt. Hope. He will take over active management of the business March 1."

So was this an indie market that was passed from grocer to grocer like a hot potato until Kroger was left holding the bag? I was starting to think so. But maybe not.

A June 1958 news article contained the following information:
Purchase of a Valley Drive site for one of the Kroger Company's largest and most modern super markets was announced today by Arnold Scherz, vice president of the Kroger Co., Charleston Division.
Scherz said the purchase from James E. and Helen T. Craft, Palm Beach, Fla., garage property and adjoining land, where a used car lot presently is being operated. His company plans to extensively remodel the existing 16,000 square foot building and to erect an addition of 5,000 square feet, for a total of 21,000 square feet.
So it wasn't a repurposed non-Kroger supermarket. It was a repurposed car dealership! I never would have guessed.
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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by wnetmacman » 10 Sep 2016 23:00

Andrew T. wrote:Thanks for checking the directories! I suspect that you've found the building: The Dollar General has the same barrel roof visible in the vintage pictures, and the same angled alignment with the street. It looks like it's been built onto on the front and side, though this may not be new: The configuration could have been changed many decades ago when SupeRx was added.

I went back to hit the newspaper archives, and discovered some interesting information.

First, about preceding supermarkets: A W.C. Lucas Super Market opened at 313 Valley Drive on June 29, 1951. The Lucas name seems to have disappeared by the end of 1952, and in 1953 this newspaper notice appeared:

"ROY DILLON, of Beckley, has purchased the Houchins' Super Market, at 313 Valley Drive from R.L. Houchins, of Mt. Hope. He will take over active management of the business March 1."

So was this an indie market that was passed from grocer to grocer like a hot potato until Kroger was left holding the bag? I was starting to think so. But maybe not.

A June 1958 news article contained the following information:
Purchase of a Valley Drive site for one of the Kroger Company's largest and most modern super markets was announced today by Arnold Scherz, vice president of the Kroger Co., Charleston Division.
Scherz said the purchase from James E. and Helen T. Craft, Palm Beach, Fla., garage property and adjoining land, where a used car lot presently is being operated. His company plans to extensively remodel the existing 16,000 square foot building and to erect an addition of 5,000 square feet, for a total of 21,000 square feet.
So it wasn't a repurposed non-Kroger supermarket. It was a repurposed car dealership! I never would have guessed.
Used car lots, especially in those days, didn't usually have 20,000 square foot buildings. I read that as that it was an adjoining lot that they purchased that had been a car lot.

Kroger has a large number of 'passed down' stores that didn't work under other operators, but they were able to make work well. The SuperX sign in the 70's picture is an added bonus.
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Re: An unusual and unlocatable Kroger store (Beckley, WV)

Post by rich » 12 Sep 2016 09:52

They clearly mention a 16K sf building here. It may be that it became a used car lot as a consequence of the changes taking place in the car industry shortly before 1958, and previously had been a new car lot. Studebaker merged with Packard, Nash/Rambler merged with Hudson, and Kaiser-Frazer went out of business. This could have been an old Kaiser dealership, or a dealership that was made redundant by the mergers of other companies. In many places, Nash and Hudson dealerships continued to operate, later becoming Rambler dealers even though they were a few miles apart; Studebaker and Packard had very different niches from each other, and didn't necessarily locate near each other. In a city the size of Beckley, only one of the franchises would have survived for Nash/Hudson and certainly for Studebaker/Packard. Conversion to a used car lot from a new car dealership was not unusual, but the owners (who probably had retired to Florida) may have found it less profitable or were offered more money than they could stand to make in the foreseeable future.

Kroger rarely occupied other chains' stores during this era--instead they often rapidly turned over their own locations during the 50s and early 60s, even if the new stores were not much bigger than the ones they closed. They did, occasionally, reuse old buildings for stores. They had a long running store in Cleveland on Buckeye Road that was in a converted ice house; it was one of the few inner city stores they operated in Cleveland during the super market era and probably the only one that wasn't originally built as a Kroger.

The SuperX might have moved into the Kroger space if the super market relocated in the 70s or 80s. They did this in a number of places and having freestanding locations, in part, might have been one of the ways they tried to make the chain more attractive as an acquisition by someone else, along with their purchase of Hoo n(which filled out a big part of their territory). The old SuperX could then have been sublet to someone else.

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