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  1. fm2176

    Long-Gone Retail Chains

    There used to be few home improvement retail chains in the central Virginia area which are no longer with us. Builder's Square, Home Quarters Warehouse, and Hechinger were three that I recall seeing and occasionally even venturing into. There was little need for the wares such stores offer insofar as my family was concerned, so the few chances I had to see the interior were memorable. I don't recall Home Depot back then (though I'm sure they were around the area), and the local Lowe's was not much larger than a Dollar Tree. To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about these stores, despite remembering all sorts of stores like Bradlees, Ames, Hills, Best, Service Merchandise, Roses (still in business, but a shadow of its former self), Thalhimers, Miller & Rhoads, McCrory, G.C. Murphy, and numerous other chains. Sadly, Sears and Kmart will probably soon be added to that list. Retail history is a subject that has long interested me, though; from the dead malls and label-scarred shopping centers with dated designs, to the shifts in popularity for retail centers. Downtown was still thriving in the early '80's, enclosed malls finally dominated the latter part of the decade, and now the open-air town center (in some cases merely an upscale and massive strip mall) is killing many malls. These are and were places where handymen bought their tools and supplies, housewives outfitted the children with school clothes, and families spent memorable (if only for the kids throwing a fit) times. A fairly recent store to go out of business is Alco. In 2012 I moved to a one-light town in Georgia. There are a couple of gas stations, one with a McDonald's, and a Dollar General and supermarket, and until a couple of years ago there was also a store that is best described as a mini-Walmart. Alco appeared to be a lawn and garden store when I first saw it. They had a small fenced in lawn and garden section in the parking lot, lawn mowers out front, and even had a sign that proclaimed they were starting to sell beer! When I first walked inside, though, I was amazed. Those of you who never had an Alco can imagine a store the size of a Walmart market. Rather than groceries, though, they had clothing, footwear, home needs and decor, furniture, hunting/fishing supplies, electronics, seasonal departments, toys, a few aisles of non-perishable food, milk and eggs up front, hardware, and of course, tools! In other words, they sold just about everything Walmart does on a smaller scale and with less selection. Prices were unable to compete with Walmart, but factoring in gas and time, they were bargains as opposed to driving 60 miles round-trip. I shopped there often before placing all of my stuff in storage for an all-expense paid trip to Afghanistan, then moved closer to the installation once I got back. A couple of months later I read that Alco was going out of business, leaving a lot of small communities with Dollar General or Family Dollar as their only retail option. I made a last trip to see what was left (not much) and walked out a final time. The attachment some of us get to places we frequent--even chain stores run by mindless corporations that care only about our money--can be real. Don't get me wrong, the places that are now gone and the businesses that are no longer don't cause emotions to well up inside of me. Still, these were places where men and women earned a living, provided for families and themselves, and which were generally relied upon to make life a little more convenient. Okay, so an off-the-wall post that will very likely be on page 2 in no time, but it killed a little time for me. Conquered the Finance homework, organizing tools, and about to YouTube it up with AvE, The Great War Channel, Forgotten Weapons, and some retro gaming channels. Batteries charged, 10 gallons of water available, steaks for the dog, and a few cans of green beans and rutabagas just in case Irma decides to crush the Chattahoochee Valley.