Retro Charlotte

Park-N-Shop, Wilkinson Blvd.

1951 ad. Note the address - 2938 Wilkinson Blvd - would’ve been just past Bar-B-Q King on the right.
1951 ad. Note the address - 2938 Wilkinson Blvd - would’ve been just past Bar-B-Q King on the right.

Newcomers may have first heard about the Wilkinson Blvd. Park-N-Shop when reading Mark Washburn's 2014 story about the twins and my accompanying blog post that's full of photos.

Charlotte natives, especially Westsiders, remember it fondly and probably shopped there growing up. I made a short video showing the location now.

And here’s a 2004 story by Cristina Bolling on the closing of Charlotte’ last Park-N-Shop, on South Blvd.

After Decades of Firsts, it’s Last Day to Park-N-Shop

“‘Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise’ - that was my slogan. I lived by that. Those were the days, I tell you what.” -Charles Reid of Park-N-Shop

Around dusk tonight, the peanut roaster that welcomed customers with its sweet steam will be shut off for good at the Park-N-Shop on South Boulevard.

The last patron will filter through the warehouse-style store known as much for its cheery workers and colorful past as for the exotic produce that drew thousands from Charlotte's growing immigrant community.

And Charles Reid's grocery empire will come to an end.

Once the city's grocery king with 10 stores around the city, his think-outside-the-box mentality put him decades ahead of his time, admirers say.

In the 1960s and '70s, he redesigned his storefronts to resemble an open-air market, went on the radio live to advertise his specials, and designed what was the city's first supercenter - a grocery complete with restaurant and snack bar, deli, bakery and butcher shop.

Now, at 83 and with one store left, Reid is finally ready to retire, as are his two children who have run the store for the last several years. They're leasing the lot, near the intersection of South Boulevard and Woodlawn Road, to Home Depot, which plans to open an 80,000-square-foot store next December.

On Friday, Reid stood by the banana shelves like he always did when he visited the store, and talked to customers as they walked by. Some shook his hand and wished him well. Others hugged him for a good long while.

" 'Early to bed early to rise, work like hell and advertise' - that was my slogan. I lived by that," Reid said. "Those were the days, I tell you what."

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10 stores in the '70s

The store that closes today, officially named Park-N-Shop Farmers Market, opened in 1991 in a warehouse Reid built in the 1970s next to one of his largest stores. He had 10 stores at the time, and the warehouse supplied all of them.

The store has no ties to Reid's Supermarkets or Reid's Fine Foods in uptown Charlotte.

After his wife died in 1979, Reid scaled back by closing all stores except his first two, on Wilkinson Boulevard and North Tryon. In 1991, with Reid looking to retire, he sold the last two stores, and he and his sons, Neal and Don, converted the warehouse on South Boulevard into a wholesale business.

But Charles soon tired of retirement, and the store opened for retail customers.

Over the next decade, the neighborhood around the grocery attracted thousands of immigrants from around the globe. A Salvadoran convenience store opened across the street. Asian markets sprang up down the road.

When customers from other countries wandered in the Park-N-Shop and asked for products from their homelands, employees said yes. First, they ordered a few cases of canned juices. Then came extra-large limes for Mexican dishes, bok choy and special chili peppers.

In later years, the store fell behind competitors. Its computers weren't updated, making it hard to ring customers up when the state changed its sales tax rates. It didn't have the sparkle of newer stores. Price signs were written out by hand.

Produce, which was Reid's passion, takes up most of the space, with one corner offering a half-dozen types of root vegetables, each one for a different nationality's cooking.

Neal Reid estimates 85 percent of his clientele comes from another country. Spanish-speaking workers help welcome Latino clients and the store has had Vietnamese and East Indian employees.

"It's like visiting church; I come here every week," said Jayashree Panduranga, a native of India who has shopped at Park-N-Shop since moving to Charlotte six years ago. A vegetarian, she doesn't know what she'll do without the store's supply of coyote squash, sweet pumpkins and Chinese eggplant.

The international shift hasn't bothered U.S.-natives like Jean and L.A. Hutson, a retired couple who drive from their SouthPark neighborhood to buy bright red, juicy tomatoes at Park-N-Shop. They said they regret the switch from grocery to Home Depot.

"It's hard to eat nails," L.A. Hutson said. "I'd just as soon keep it the way it is."

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Easy to stop in

Charles Reid grew up on a farm and quit school after the seventh grade, when he moved to Rock Hill with his sister and brother-in-law and took a job at a small grocery.

Reid later moved to Wilmington, and in 1943 started a roadside produce stand and sandwich cart for naval servicemen there.

When the war ended and the naval shipyard closed, Reid returned to Charlotte and bought a small grocery along Wilkinson Boulevard, which was the city's only four-lane road at the time. He chose the name Park-N-Shop to announce that it would be quick and easy to stop in and shop. He expanded several times.

When the store burned to the ground one night in October 1956, Reid responded with characteristic optimism, borrowing a cash register and selling the bread, milk and eggs that had been delivered that morning in front of the charred grocery.

For 19 months, the grocery operated out of a makeshift tent made from telephone poles and a tin roof in the front parking lot.

Reid's business exploded over the next two decades. By 1976, he had opened 10 stores from Gastonia to Independence Boulevard, and became president of state and national grocers associations.

He became a local celebrity of sorts, sponsoring flamboyant promotions like one night's offer of watermelons for a nickel to customers who would come in their pajamas. Cars flooded Wilkinson Boulevard.

Employees said he was a fair and thoughtful boss. He gave jobs to Daisy and Violet Hilton, two sisters who were conjoined at the hip. The sisters had been displayed on vaudeville and in freak shows, but Reid treated them with respect.

Although today's closing marks the end of Reid's era in Charlotte's grocery business, others say they'll continue to tell his story.

"Mr. Charlie was, I'd say, 30 to 35 years ahead of his time," said Hubert Cress, a retired supplier for Wrigley's chewing gum who worked with Park-N-Shop. His store "had a nice atmosphere all the time. It was never a hustle-bustle," Cress said. "Whatever it took to (help) you as a customer or as a supplier, he'd do what it takes."

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