Groner’s Store – by Jim Evans


Our family moved to Powell Station in1937. One of my earliest memories in what is now known as Powell was visiting Groner’s the only large store in town. To a five year old boy the store was enormous. It stood two stories tall and not only housed a huge grocery store but also the Powell Station Post office was in the rear section of the store. In other words, you had to go through the store to get to the Post office. Since we lived right downtown our mail was not delivered to our house. So we had to make a trip to the store every day to just get our mail. We only lived about two blocks away so this was not a big deal.
Groner’s was a complete grocery store. It had a full line of groceries including produce and meat. It also offered a complete line of feed, fertilizer, seed and the whole second story was filled with hardware. You had to be accompanied to the hardware section, and even after I was nearly grown, a visit to the hardware level caused me to get excited. They had so much new stuff up there that I found it difficult to take it all in. And, believe it or not, Groner’s actually operated their own coal yard in the winter time. Yes, and I almost forgot they also sold gas and oil for your car.

Groner’s was built so it faced the railroad tracks. The tracks were about forty feet from the store’s front porch. Across the tracks and about two hundred feet away stood the train station with it’s “Powell Station” sign on the roof. Passengers rode the train to and from Knoxville. But, it also brought the mail to Powell. The mail would be brought to the post office inside Groner’s. Two blocks away stood our church, Powell Baptist. There was also a Methodist Church in downtown Powell. And, two blocks from Groner’s stood the Powell schools, the elementary occupied floor level and the high school the second level. About a block further we had a doctor who worked out of his house. A chiropractor also lived nearby. A sawmill was only about a block from Groner’s. I guess if you include the telephone office which operated out of the owner’s residence, you can pretty much picture the whole little village.

It is impossible for me to describe with words what Groner’s was to the community. But, I will try. First, I will try to explain what we knew about the ownership of the store. The store was owned by two or three individuals. But, Mr. Hobe Rhodes, was one of the owners, a local christian man, who ran the store. When this store began, I do not know. But it was in operation, when I moved to Powell Station, in 1937.

The whole Rhodes family ran the store. Hobe’s wife worked there much of the time. His son, Alvin, worked there as he grew up and would later run the store after Hobe’s death. Their daughter, Margaret, also worked there at times. Every member of the Rhodes family were highly respected. Hobe sang in the choir every Sunday at the Powell Baptist Church. He also, from time to time, would sing a solo for he was musically talented.

My experience and knowledge of Groner’s scans the time from about 1937 until about the late 1960’s. I will be describing it here as I remember it in the early 1940’s In the thirties our nation was in a deep depression. In the forties we were at war. Both, were probably responsible for Groner’s strong position in our neighborhood. In the Powell community many people were illiterate. I would guess less than half of my father’s generation finished high school. This fact meant we suffered the effects of low paying jobs in Powell. Everyone was struggling to even have a job. You have to understand these economic facts to even come close to understanding what Groner’s meant to the community.

At that time, Powell was a rural community. Probably more than one half of the community did not have access to an automobile. There would be no bus service in Powell for many years to come. It was before the days of supermarkets and the nearest, store the size of Groner’s, would be all the way down in the Oakwood section of Knoxville about a thirty minute drive, at that time.

As I still try to explain what Groner’s was to the Powell community I next have to tell about the liberal credit that was available to nearly every Powell family. I believe that about ninety percent of the families in the community had an account at this store. They had an old fashioned credit rack that had multiple leaves that opened to a large page of individual pockets where the individual family tickets were held. They would issue you a simple ticket at each purchase and keep a copy for their files. As they opened the many leaves of this rack yours eyes could scan hundreds of tickets in their files. THEY WERE ACTUALLY HELPING TO KEEP THE WHOLE COMMUNITY FROM STARVING.

To see the roll that Groner’s played in the town you next have to know about their delivery service. They actually would let you call in your order, that is if you had a telephone, and they would deliver it to your home. And all the while allow you to charge the purchase with no interest and no delivery charge. A visit to their store on Saturday would allow you to see boxes and baskets of groceries sitting all over the floor waiting to be delivered. The delivery truck ran way into the night on Saturdays.

My family traded with Groner’s for many years. We also had a credit account. And, many times I was sent on my bicycle to pickup items throughout the week. On Saturday, my mom and dad went to the store and paid up their account and purchased groceries for the coming week. I am sure this store helped us through some critical situations during those times when our budget was truly tight. We always bought a year’s supply of coal from a regular coal company before the winter season began, but, one time, I can remember that we ran out of coal. So we called Groner’s and they came long after dark and delivered us enough coal to get us through the winter. Where else could you get this service.

I hope that somehow what I have said explains how I feel about this institution. Throughout the years they maintained a remarkable reputation. I cannot remember my parents ever accusing them of having prices that were too high. Nor do I ever remember us having a disputed bill. 1 cannot ever remember coming to buy something on credit and being refused. As you can probably tell I almost get emotional just remembering my many experiences at this store.

(In the forties, by this time we had moved about a half mile away from downtown Powell, I delivered newspapers. The News Sentinel would leave my bundle of papers in front of a unoccupied building next door to Groner’s. This meant I was at Groner’s nearly every day. I am sure if I had a nickel in my pocket I went in and purchased something. When summer came I would be there almost every day just passing through and seeing who was around. The store was the center of the town. Just outside the front door was long bench. Throughout the day many people came by and killed time there. They would talk awhile and have a “coke”, then mosey on. Remember it was a small town, smaller then Mayberry N.C., and we knew everybody in town.)

( written by Jim Evans December 21, 2012. Another of “My Stories”)

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