We referred to this area as “the corner,” and over the years, I made many a trip to the corner to purchase a pack of Chesterfields for my Dad, or sometimes a bag of flour or a quart of milk for my mom. I could go to any of the stores on the east side of the corner. The stores on the west side were off limits, because going there would require me to cross over the traffic on busy McLendon Avenue. So afternoons after school, I’d often stop in at Culpepper’s—the drug store on my side of the road—and plop twenty cents down on the old marble counter for a vanilla float or maybe thirty-five cents for a grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke. If I was lucky, old Dr. Culpepper would sprinkle a handful of spicy, barbecued potato chips beside the sandwich.

When school wasn’t in session, on many a hot, summer afternoon, I’d shake a coin or two from my piggy bank and head for the corner with my girlfriend where we’d both get a 12-ounce soft drink my Dad called a “belly washer.” I liked going to the corner. For a penny, the Five-and-Dime sold the tiniest little wax bottles, filled with a sticky, sweet syrup. To enjoy the treat, you bit off the top of the bottle and allowed the syrup to trickle out in your mouth before munching on the wax. It was there that I also discovered the power of the atom—a hot, cinnamon-flavored jaw-breaker that set my mouth on fire. It was also where I often spent my weekly allowance for a new baseball, or caps for my cap pistol, a water gun or a new holster.

Over at Mr. Still’s gas station, air for my bicycle tires was free. If needed, he’d patch the tire tube for a quarter. Once McMichael’s put in their bakery, it was worth a trip to the corner just to smell the doughnuts. And although not quite as good as the barber at the shop in Little Five Points, the barbershop at the corner gave great flattops. When the trim was finished and the top was flat, the barber in the first chair would use a wiggly electrical device to massage my shoulders. It felt so good that years later when I saw one of these devices at the mall, I had to have one.

I wondered why my parents always shopped at Little Five Points and not at the corner—at the Colonial Store or the A&P and not McMichael’s. Why they crossed over busy McLendon Avenue to get their prescriptions at Waller’s, instead of at Culpepper’s. Why, indeed. One day my Mom explained. McMichael’s Supermarket was okay for a couple of items, but their prices were too high—much higher than the larger chains. Their meat, bread and produce items also weren’t as fresh since they didn’t turn over as frequently. She also felt that old Dr. Culpepper was not nearly as friendly and accommodating as Dr. Waller on the other side of the corner.

Not long ago, some fifty-five years later, my wife and I took a nostalgic drive though the old neighborhood—past Whiteford and McLendon where I picked up my newspapers before beginning my paper route. Past my grammar school and the park where I played as a kid. Past the Candler Park Swimming Pool and Epworth Methodist Church where I attended Sunday school. Then we drove slowly through the area I knew as the corner.

Boy has it changed. Predictably so...sadly so. Culpepper’s Drugstore is gone; so is Waller’s Pharmacy. McMichael’s Supermarket is now a video store. Mr. Still’s Pure Oil station is a psychedelic motorcycle shop. The Five-and-Dime has morphed into the Flying Biscuit Restaurant. The barbershop is nowhere to be found.

A sign of the times? The effect of competition? Perhaps. There’s no doubt that buying habits have changed, and the big box stores have become the most powerful retailers in the world. Or that their rapid and widespread growth has transformed the retail industry, and along with it, generated a series of social and economic changes. Folks criticize these retail behemoths for questionable labor practices, for driving the mom-and-pop shops out of business and wreaking environmental havoc. It’s for sure their national and international growth has created a lot of homegrown opposition. Opposition that’s loud and highly publicized.

Not long ago, the Los Angeles Sentinel asked a well-known politician if it bothered him that the big box stores stood accused of causing mom-and-pop stores to close. He replied, “Well, the big box stores did run the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores out of my neighborhood. But you see, the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores are the ones have been overcharging us for years—selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough.”

You know, he was right. Close to what my Mom had to say about McMichael’s and Culpepper’s. Why? Because when it comes to supplying commodities, the little guy can’t compete with the big guy. Bad service anywhere is what opens the door to lower priced competition with more and better products. If my Mom were around, she’d have set ’em straight about bad products or service...maybe before the big box got to the retailers on the corner. She’d get nose-to-nose with someone and say, “The bread is hard as a rock, the lettuce is brown, the hamburger is gray and I ain’t buying it!”


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