In the past, Cary has been called “the little town that had nothing by grocery stores.” Here is why:
Cary’s founder, Frank Page and wife Catherine arrived in 1854, bought 300 acres of land with a house near the newly laid railroad tracks where Town Hall stands today. They converted the house into a home for their growing family. The following year, when there were only little more than 200 people living in the area, Frank built and opened the first general store, probably on Railroad Street, now called Cedar Street. By 1866, Frank had found a unique way of bolstering his store profits, by preserving the peaches from his trees and selling them.
Notice in the Daily Standard on January 26, 1866
Advertisement in the Daily Standard on January 26, 1866
Around the turn of the 20th century, John Wesley Booth Jr. opened a general store on his farmland on Reedy Creek at Harrison Avenue, north of the Cary town limits. He and his family ran it for decades.
By 1900, when Cary’s population had grown to 316, another general store owned by Wiley Jones opened on Railroad Street. And soon after, Captain Guess and Mr. Cole opened their grocery store on the corner of Academy and Jones Streets.
The Scott brothers opened a grocery store in a wooden building at 123 West Chatham Street in the early 1900s. Years later, the Cary library was started in an upstairs room. That building was demolished in 1980.
Drawing of Scott’s Store at 123 W. Chatham Street, courtesy of Jerry Miller
The early 1900s was a boom time for grocery stores in Cary. Within a few decades, the Jones Brothers grocery store, M.J. Jones grocery store, J.H. Wilder grocery store, and W.T. Lynn grocery store all opened along Chatham or Cedar Streets. But by far, the largest general store of all was owned by the Gray brothers on the corner at 100 West Chatham Street and Academy Street, where the large Fidelity Bank is today. The store was the center of the community for four decades, until it closed in 1939.
By 1930, there were seven grocery stores open and operating on Chatham Street. Why so many grocery stores? Because, beginning with the Highway Act of 1921, U.S. 1 and 64, and later U.S. 70 and 54 as well fed into and down Chatham Street, right through Cary. Businesses sprung up all long Chatham Street for the motorists passing through, as well as gas stations and places to eat and spend the night. Remnants of those businesses still exist today.
At about the same time, Terrell’s Grocery Store was operating on Chapel Hill Road, across from the VFW building today. This store catered to many African American families in Cary. The building is no longer standing.
By 1950, Ken-Ben’s 5 & 10 store on the corner of Academy and Jones Streets continued to operate through 1960.
Cary’s 1939 telephone “book,” which was a one-page list, included Branton’s Groceries, Hobby’s Cash Grocery, and W.L. Rogers Grocery stores. These were the only ones with a listed telephone number.
Lemuel Rogers started his early career buying produce at Raleigh farmer’s market, then selling it all around the area from his pickup truck. In 1939, he then expanded and opened a grocery store at 107 W. Chatham Street, adjacent to Adams (now Ashworth) drugstore. Just two lots west of Rogers Grocery store, at 117 W. Chatham Street, was Hobby’s Cash Grocery store. Directly across the street, at 122 W. Chatham Street was Denning’s Market. So there were three grocery stores on the same block for a decade or so, all competing for the same customers.
Today at 105B W. Chatham is the door for the stairs to the second story above Ashworth Drugstore. Adjacent to the stairs is 107 W. Chatham Street, now Douglas Realty.
Billy Rogers, Lemuel’s son, was still a boy when he began delivering groceries on his bicycle that had a large basket in front. People would call the store, some on a daily basis, and put in an order to be delivered. Those customers lived as far as a bicycle could reach on the same day as the order. Lemuel carried credit for many of his customers by running up a tab for them that they would pay off at the end of the month when they got paid. When Herb Young was a boy, he caught rabbits and traded them for candy at Rogers’ store. He was not the only one to make such trades.
117 and 119 West Chatham Street, south side, today
Glenn Hobby had done very well during World War II, because he was able to attract more customers through allotments. He would put cartons and baskets of produce out on the sidewalk in front of his store at 117 West Chatham to attract customers. He was a good businessman. He later bought the lot on the southeast corner of Academy and Chatham Streets, moved the house where Mr. Catronis, the shoe repair shop owner, had lived and built the building where the Kitchen and Bath store is now. He leased it to Piggly Wiggly, and the first supermarket in Cary opened in June of 1950.
When Piggly Wiggly opened, Billy Rogers stood outside his father’s store trying not to cry as he watched all their customers cross the street to the new supermarket. Not long after, Lemuel Rogers sold his grocery store in 1952, and in 1954, he opened a restaurant down the street.
In the 1920s, G.H. Jordan opened a store at 122 West Chatham and Jones Streets. In 1941, he sold the store to Milton Denning who opened and ran Denning’s Market there until 1946, when he closed it due to failing health. In 1951, Milton’s son Joe bought the same building and opened his own store he called Grocery Boys. Joe and his wife Doris lived upstairs for years and had two of their three children, both sons, while living there. Since both Joe and Doris worked long hours in the store, they put a playpen behind the meat counter, where the boys could be watched by both parents and Grandpa Milton, who was their butcher.
Drawing of the original Grocery Boys store at 122 W. Chatham Street, courtesy of Jerry Miller
Right to left, 122, 124 and 126 West Chatham Street, north side, today
The Dennings also delivered groceries from phone-in orders, using their truck. They also carried credit for their customers.
Before 1958, Winn Dixie came to Cary and opened the second supermarket in the building at 220 W. Chatham Street where LaFarm Bakery is today. Then in 1958, Winn Dixie built a large building at 365 W. Chatham Street near the corner of Dixon Street. They moved from today’s LaFarm Bakery building two blocks west in August of 1958. That building no longer exists.
The News and Observer, August 5, 1958
In 1964, C.Y. Jordan built the building at 200 East Chatham Street, on the south side, where the Perfect Piece store is today. He leased the completed building to the A&P market.
200 E. Chatham Street when the A&P Opened in 1964
Finding themselves surrounded by supermarkets, Joe and Doris Denning realized that if they were going to stay in the grocery business, they needed to open one of their own. So in 1964, they bought the lot at to corner of Chatham and Maynard, and built a new building where the Patel Brothers are today. When completed, they moved Grocery Boys there as an expanded supermarket. They also ended carrying credit or making deliveries. Their gamble paid off, the store was a success.
While on vacation in Florida in 1966, the Dennings discovered what was called a “convenience store” there. Thinking this concept might work in Cary and be a successful second business of them, they built and opened one on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh near Rex Hospital that they called Grocery Boy Jr. It was one of the very first convenience stores in Wake County, and was an instant hit. Four more Grocery Boy Jr. stores soon followed, from 1967 to 1969.
In 1966, Joe and Harry Stephenson, owner of Cary Old Company, were friends. One day, Harry approached Joe with an idea to put a gas pump in front of his convenience stores. Joe agreed to give it a try, and the first pump was installed at the Grocery Boy Jr. on Blue Ridge Road. This initiative was also successful. Eventually over time, there were eighteen Grocery Boy Jr. stores scattered throughout Wake County, and each one had gas pumps out front. When Joe and Doris retired, their three children took over running the business.
GROCERY BOYS AD IN NEWS AND OBSERVER:
THE AD CONTINUES...
WE STARTED THE SIMPLE WAY, SMALL!
Dad, Milton Denning, started Denning’s Market in 1941, on the corner of N. Jones and Chatham Streets. In 1951, Joe Denning, a son, took over the store and ran the store until 1964, when smallness was no longer the way to go in the grocery business. Seeing that Cary was in the need for a locally owned supermarket, Joe and Doris Denning opened the GROCERY BOYS. This supermarket, located on the corner of Maynard Road and Raleigh Highway, has continued to grow and expand its service to its customers. In 1966, seeing that areas in Wake County were in need of a locally owned convenience store, Joe opened the first GROCERY BOYS JR. on Blue Ridge Road. This proved a good decision, and the second GROCERY BOY JR. was opened in the Macedonia area in 1967. With quick succession, three other GROCERY BOY JRs were opened… Number three on Lake Wheeler Road in 1968; Number four on the corner of Jones Franklin Road and Athens Drive in 1969, and Number five on Highway 64 East at Hodges Road in 1969.
Today, there are no grocery stores in downtown Cary.