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'Civic Design Committee'

Mar 03

Even Big Stars Fade

Posted to Madison Moments on March 3, 2016 at 6:04 PM by Ken Kocher

Our previous two blog posts have told the story of the Rogers Store opening the first chain grocery in Madison which then built the first supermarket, changing the name to Colonial Stores. This week’s post is the final chapter of the story. The chapter opens with two houses on N. Main Street, known as the former homes of Mrs. L. B. Chambers and the Grady Orrs, falling to the wrecking ball making way for a new Colonial Stores.

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As with the previous store on Jefferson Street, Colonial Stores negotiated with the owner of the property, in this case Bearden Chambers, to build a new building on the site which they would then lease. Benning Construction Company of Atlanta was contracted to build the store, a task they completed in a little under ten months.

The opening of the store can be described as nothing less than a spectacle. A full section in The Madisonian was dedicated to the Grand Opening. Ten Madison ladies cut gold ribbons for the gala opening prior to the opening of the doors. Of special note was the design of the building which was unique to grand opening.jpgMadison. It was described as “built along Greek Revival lines” though it is more Colonial Revival ala Mount Vernon. Only three times had Colonial Stores deviated from their basic store lines — Williamsburg, Old Salem, and Madison.

Officials agreed to deviate from their usual architecture after a plea from local ladies representing the Beautification Committee, Historical Society, and Civic Design Committee. Colonial officials were widely praised locally for efforts and extra expenses in this area.

WYTH, the local radio station, did a live remote from the manager's office which was elevated and gave a clear view of the store. One Morgan County resident recalls that the opening was standing room only. Her Mama won a long, long strand of Gold Bond Stamps which she draped around her daughter’s neck. This was one proud girl when Annie Lee Small, station owner, announced it on the radio.  Another Madison resident remembers that the new store had electric-eye doors that he thought were “crazy cool!”

indian-creek-plaza.jpgSoon the store settled down to the day-to-day activity of the grocery business which, as you recall from the last post, is an ever changing one. Ten years after the opening of the store on Main Street, there were rumors that the store would be moving again. In August of 1974, plans for a 55,000 sq. ft. shopping center on 441, to be called Indian Creek Plaza, were announced. One of the major tenants, expected to take 20,000 sq. ft., was reported to be a Big Star Food Store which would replace the Colonial Store. Big Star was Colonial’s discount brand. However, the down economy at the time stalled the project and it never got off the ground.
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Colonial continued to operate at its N. Main location. In 1980, the store was rebranded as  a Big Star hoping to survive as a discount market. On November 7, 1985, The Madisonian reported “The End of an Era” relaying the news that the Big Star supermarket would close on Saturday. The reason? Increased competition brought about by the recent opening of the new Piggly Wiggly Store just up the street. The Big Star was one-third the size and had no service departments such as a deli and a bakery. Craig Sturken, spokesman for the parent company, Grand Union Company of New Jersey, stated, "The statistics do not support two stores the size of Piggly Wiggly in Madison."

And so, the 60 year story of Rogers/Colonial/Big Star in Madison came to an end. It is a story that traces the changes in the grocery business that occurred throughout the twentieth century, both locally and nationally. It is one that can be seen in the buildings left behind in Downtown Madison.


Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Historic Preservation Commission and written by Ken Kocher, HPC staff. This volunteer board protects the community's wealth of historic resources - most notably the Madison Historic District, first listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.