Greensboro’s 1970 population of 144,100 kept it safely in second place among North Carolina cities. It remained a prosperous city, seemingly unaware of the vulnerabilities of its tobacco and textile-based economy. Growth continued to trend west and northwest, despite efforts to steer it to the northeast.
Over a four year period, from 1974 to 1978, every downtown department store in Greensboro would close — as would most other retailers, restaurants, and theatres in the center city — drawn away by new suburban malls. Downtown would become something of a ghost town, with beautification projects and “enhancements” merely highlighting the emptiness of the place. The suburbs, however, were booming.
The big news among shopping centers in the 1970s were Greensboro’s two large regional malls, Four Seasons on the southwest side (1974), and Carolina Circle (1976) on the northeast. The former had been planned for more than a decade, and when it opened, downtown Greensboro was sunk. The Belk department store downtown, the anchor of any North Carolina central city at the time, closed when its Four Seasons branch opened. Carolina Circle never packed the punch of Four Seasons due to its unfortunate site on the “wrong” side of town, but it certainly didn’t help matters downtown either.
New Greensboro shopping centers of the 1970s (and their supermarket anchors) included:
- Westgate Center, High Point Road at Merritt Drive, 1971: Winn-Dixie.
- Bessemer Center, Phillips Avenue at Woodbriar, 1971: Winn-Dixie.
- Kmart Plaza, West Market Street at Muirs Chapel Road, 1972: Kmart Foods.
- Kroger Center, West Market Street at Walker Avenue, 1973: Kroger.
- Palmer Plaza, Yanceyville Street at Cone Boulevard, 1974: Kroger.
- Four Seasons Mall, Pinecroft Road at Vanstory Street, 1974: Winn-Dixie.
- Holden Plaza, Holden and Vandalia Roads, 1976: Food Town.
- Carolina Circle Mall, Cone and O. Henry Boulevards, 1976: No supermarket.
- Kmart Plaza, West Cone Boulevard at Carolina Circle Mall, 1976: Big Star.
A&P started the 1970s with nine Greensboro locations. By 1975, there were only six. By 1980, the A&P name had vanished from Greensboro forever, after seventy years. The story was repeated all over the country.
First to go, on 21 February 1973, was the Commerce Place store downtown. An A&P had stood at this location for 35 years, 26 of those in the current building. Despite this closing, A&P still had a downtown store for two more years, until the great bloodbath of 1975, when A&P closed half its stores nationwide, including three in Greensboro: Asheboro Street (opened in 1948), Lee Street (opened 1954), and Walker Avenue (opened 1957).
By 1980, the remaining six stores had closed, although five of them had been taken over by other chains. Only the “urban renewal” store on East Market Street closed permanently.
However, A&P made one last attempt at survival in Greensboro with the 1979 opening of its Family Mart combination store on High Point Road. The 57,000 square foot store featured numerous non-food items and a pharmacy in a full-service supermarket setting, and was one of a prototype A&P used all over the south, including Winston-Salem. The Triad area Family Mart stores were sold to Kroger within five years, at which point the region was completely abandoned by A&P. The company hung on for another decade or so in Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area.
The Bi-Rite co-op went through major changes in the 1970s. Its Greensboro locations (15) were more numerous than any of its competitors. However, Bi-Rite was not a chain, but a confederation of individual store owners. One of them, Robert Butler, had grand expansion plans the others did not all share.
Around 1973, Butler’s stores (and perhaps some of the others) seceded from the co-op and rebranded under the Bestway name. By 1975, there were eight Bestway stores, at least five of them former (or relocated) Bi-Rites. One was the 1947 vintage former A&P location on Walker Avenue. In the same year, there were six Bi-Rite stores, five of them dating from before 1970 and one located in a former Colonial store on Asheboro Street.
By 1980, the co-op had splintered further; many of the remaining Bi-Rite stores had become FoodRite stores. FoodRite had also taken over the vacated A&P store on Battleground Avenue, and had a total of six stores. Bi-Rite had five: three dating from the 1950s, plus two “new” locations, the 1950 vintage A&P at Summit Shopping Center and a small store on Pleasant Garden Road.
Bestway still had eight locations in 1980, but one in a former Piggly Wiggly near Guilford College had closed, and the chain had also taken over A&P’s former space at Golden Gate Center.
Sometime around 1971, George Hutchens’ National Foods decided to rebrand its Big Bear stores as Food World. The most likely explanation is that the chain’s expansion was to the north, and it realized that a move into the territory of Ohio-based Big Bear would require a name change. The new High Point Road location was the first to receive the new name, in 1970. Mrket Street had been rebranded by 1973, and Lawndale and Summit were operating as Food World as of 1974.
The chain had very little growth on its home turf during the 1970s, though. Only one new store was added in Greensboro, when the former A&P at Spring Valley Shopping Center became a Food World late in the decade, increasing the store count to five.
In 1970, Greensboro had three Colonial and one Big Star stores. The two oldest Colonials, Battleground Avenue (1951), and High Point Road (1959) closed around 1973, with the latter relocating two blocks west adjacent to a new Cook’s department store, where Colonial had already been operating the food department.
The last new store to open under the Colonial name was on College Road, near Guilford College in western Greensboro. By 1975, the Colonial brand had largely been retired and all stores operated under the Big Star banner (although the parent company retained the Colonial Stores name). Shortly after, the company was acquired by Grand Union of New York. By 1980, the store count remained at four, just as in 1970, but three of these were newer and larger stores. Only the Friendly Center store dated from before 1970.
Around 1974, Greensboro’s first Food Town opened in the former Kroger slot at Golden Gate Center. Presented as a no frills, low price concept, the Salisbury-based chain was expanding rapidly throughout North Carolina, using its LFPINC (Lowest Food Prices In North Carolina) slogan and homespun commercials featuring CEO Ralph Ketner.
By 1980, Food Town had six Greensboro locations, including two it had taken over from Kmart Foods and one former A&P.
After relatively little investment in its Greensboro during the 1960s, Kroger became more aggressive with the launch of its first area “superstores” in 1973. These stores featured an expanded selection, service departments, and a color scheme that was definitely very much of its time, with gold, green, orange, and brown predominating.
Kroger often developed entire centers to “match” its new stores. Greensboro’s first was on West Market Street near Walker Avenue in 1973. It was followed in 1974 by Palmer Plaza on Yanceyville Street. A third superstore opened in 1976 next to the Best Products showroom on High Point Road.
The new stores resulted in the closing of the 1960 Golden Gate branch in 1971 or 1972, and the twenty-one-year-old Spring Garden Street store in 1973; the former became the first Greensboro outlet of Salisbury-based Food Town, while the latter never operated as a supermarket again and is now a CVS pharmacy.
After nearly a decade of no new stores, Winn-Dixie opened a mixed bag of stores in the early 1970s. In 1971, stores opened in small shopping centers on High Point Road on the southwest side, and on Phillips Avenue on the northeast side. A large new store also opened as an outparcel at Four Seasons Mall in 1974. The original 1955 Dixie-Home store on Battleground Avenue closed early in the decade, as did the 1962 store on Florida Street across from the Smith Homes public housing project.
The relatively new High Point Road store closed within five years of opening, and the Quaker Village store (1962) also closed in the mid-1970s. By 1980, Winn-Dixie had four locations in Greensboro, two thirds the number it had in 1960, and half the locations were approaching twenty years of age. Two were in high-income shopping areas, while the other two were in areas of decline. There seemed to be little focus within the chain, a problem that would escalate in the coming years.
Kmart Foods ceased to exist nationwide around 1975, with its locations going to various operators. Food Town took over the two Greensboro stores.
Clark’s was bought out by Cleveland-based Cook’s department stores in 1968; its Greensboro stores rebranded a couple of years later, and a new location opened on High Point Road in 1971. The new store, however, did not have its own food department, but had an attached Colonial store, which later became a Big Star. The original Burlington Road store closed in 1977.