Tucker’s ‘much more than just a store,’ Longtime landmark fondly remembered
Published 10:35 am Thursday, August 24, 2017
Country stores used to be plentiful across Crenshaw County, places where local farmers and their families could get the necessities, gas up their vehicles or just visit with folks without making the long drive into town.
Now many of those formerly bustling businesses sit silent and shuttered, riddled with rot and overgrown with vines. Other have been torn down.
One of the long-time landmarks of Honoraville was the Tucker’s Grocery building. The wood-frame structure was razed earlier this year after being purchased by Union Baptist Church as part of a plan to expand the church’s parking capacity.
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While the building may be gone, Tucker’s lives on in the memories of the many who worked, traded and socialized there.
“I basically grew up in that store,” said James Tucker, who owned and operated the business with wife Glenda for a number of years. Before James, there was his dad, Luke, and his granddaddy, Henry, behind the counter at Tucker’s.
The building actually dated back to somewhere close to 1908, with at least two, and possibly three, owners before Henry Tucker took possession of it, Tucker said.
“We know Foster Duncan, who was also the mail carrier at one time, owned it, and a Mr. Pollard, and we think Leonard Massey also ran it for a while.”
During Duncan’s ownership, the Honoraville post office was located inside the store. Before the structure was torn down, Tucker was able to retrieve the old mail slot used by postal patrons nearly a century ago.
The store came into his family’s hands over 80 years ago.
“My granddaddy Henry owned the store from the mid-1930s until 1947, when my daddy Luke went partners with him,” says Tucker.
“After Granddaddy died in 1961, Daddy ran it on his own and it did real well. He even added on to the store in 1963. And in 1966, he asked me to go into partnership with him, and I did.”
Father and son went on to make more changes at the store, including the addition of a TV showroom with paneling and wall-to-wall carpet and more storage.
When Luke Tucker passed away in 1970, his son and his widow Cornelia, and later, James’ wife Glenda, served the store’s customers.
Tucker’s offered a lot more to its country customers than the chance to stock up on groceries or gas up your car or truck.
“We tried to do a lot of different things to accommodate the customers,” Tucker recalled. “In those times, people didn’t just jump up at the drop of a hat and run to town. We carried guns and ammunition, we had hardware and tools, and we sold and repaired chainsaws there. Daddy and I used to buy junked cars, bring them out there, fix them up and resell them. And we repaired and sold TVs and had a butcher shop on the premises, too.”
Luke Tucker would even do a bit of barbering, recalled Bill Stringer, a customer in the store in his younger days.
“They had a barber shop in the corner and Mr. Luke used to give us hair cuts when we were kids.”
But the biggest draw for Stringer and many, many other youngsters was Tucker’s candy display with its plethora of sweet treats from cookies to candy bars and everything in between.
“Hands down, the best candy selection around: chocolate footballs, KITs, bubble gum, suckers and so much I can’t remember,” Stringer said.
“Back in the day, Mr. Luke had a contest and whoever turned in the most Sugar Daddy candy wrappers would win a big Sugar Daddy. Me and M.L. Morgan won, we ate on it for a week,” Charles Massey fondly recalled.
Tucker admits the “candy corner” was easily within reach of small hands captivated by all that tempting sweetness.
“We had some mamas and grandmamas who had to fight a little with the kids over that candy,” Tucker admitted with a laugh. “We had a lot of penny candy, and even some that was two for a penny. We also had cookies that were two for a penny in a big jar—I do believe that was bought by Judy Smith at a yard sale.”
Indeed it was, says Smith, who proudly displays it in her kitchen.
As a student at Honoraville School, she remembers getting to visit the store during recess and on other memorable occasions.
“There was a most special connection between the school and the store. We would travel off school property to watch the Harlem Globetrotters, the World Series and Bear Bryant’s funeral on their televisions—all in color. And all those trips to get drinks, cookies and chips at recess,” Smith recalled.
Leesa Massey remembers Tucker’s as a favorite, ever-present part of her childhood and youth.
“I grew up a stone’s throw from this wonderful place that we simply called ‘the store.’ I passed there every time I walked to school, church or the post office,” Massey said.
“Tucker’s was so much more than a grocery store. They sold hardware, PVC pipe and animal feed, I think. In the back they had bananas, meats cut to order, salt fish in a tin can, ‘stick bologna’ and my favorite—hoop cheese. Once in a while, Mama would let us pick out a TV dinner from their freezer case. We thought that was a real treat back in the day,” Massey laughed.
And on a really hot, sticky summer’s day, there was the sheer delight of hand-dipped ice cream or an ice-cold soft drink.
“Yes, we offered one ice cream scoop for a nickel and two for a dime,” recalled Tucker. “And we always tried to keep our soft drink cooler extra cold so that when you fished out a drink, it would have a few slivers of ice inside. That made it really good.”
Greta Rogers Beasley fondly remembers going to the store with her dad, Lomax Rogers, and enjoying Tucker’s hand-dipped ice cream. “It was the absolute best. I would get orange pineapple and my Dad would get black walnut. It was such a treat,” Beasley recalled. “We always got ice cream when we went to pay the electric bill at the store.”
Yes, Tucker’s took your power bill payments, too.
Customers could also bring back their carton of glass bottles for a deposit. “Some folks would go up and down the roadside, looking for bottles people had thrown out to bring them in and get some credit,” Tucker said.
Leesa Massey remembers many trips taken by foot as a child, toting a carton of empty “dranks” to exchange for a full carton at Tucker’s, a six-pack costing only a quarter back in the day.
“I was a regular back door customer growing up,” Massey recalled. “As a young child, I was fascinated by the big drawer of books with names on them, used when you put a purchase on a ‘ticket’ and the adding machines also fascinated me.”
Many of their store’s customers had accounts there they would settle up once their paychecks came in, Tucker said.
“Offering credit helped people out. We had a customer who was blind and her little girl came in to get things they needed. I was in Dillard’s in Montgomery several weeks ago, and her daughter came over to me and thanked me for helping her mama out all those years ago. And that made me feel good.”
With the years came changes for the Tucker family.
In 1986, James Tucker became a full-time rural mail carrier with wife Glenda serving as Honoraville’s postmistress. She had started out with the USPS on a part-time basis in 1959, allowing her to spend time raising the couple’s children before accepting a full-time position.
“Yes, I worked for my wife,” Tucker said with a laugh. “But she was a good boss.”
He tried having different people come in to help operate the store while they were on the job. It never quite worked out, and Tucker’s Grocery officially closed its doors in 1995.
Ramona Mejia Martin, who spent many summers growing up visiting with her mother’s relatives in Honoraville, cherishes her childhood memories of Tucker’s—the straw cowboy hats and overalls for sale, the big drinks in the cooler, tutti-frutti ice cream and the store’s yard paved with bottle caps of every kind—and the chance she had to share those memories with visiting grandchildren and nieces years later. She, too, will miss this Honoraville landmark.
“I hate the thought that I won’t be bringing another generation to drink a ‘Co-Cola’ out in front of the store, but I will always treasure the memories of the magical kingdom of Honoraville that included Tucker’s Store,” Martin said.
Tucker admits that he, like many of his customers from throughout the years, hated to see the old building go.
“But it was getting in such a bad shape that it was going to go, one way or another. And the church needs the property. It felt like the right thing to do.”
He embraces the memories of times past, and of all the people who became like family to him and his own family over the decades.
“That’s what I miss most, seeing the people coming in to the store, talking to them. I have a lot of good memories.”