Swannanoa Stories

Swannanoa Stories: Before Ingles, There Was W.J. Parks

In the days before supermarkets and department stores, most towns (including Swannanoa) boasted general stores that carried everything from groceries and medicines to kitchen equipment and farm supplies. One early general store in downtown Swannanoa was W.J. Parks’ Grocery, Coal and Lumber – owned by (not surprisingly) W.J. Parks.

The grocery was located directly across the street from the Swannanoa train station and operated in that location from the 1920s through the end of World War II. Mr. Parks was also the railroad ticket agent in Swannanoa. After the war, the train began bypassing Swannanoa and the business district moved away from the train tracks and into the center of town. W.J. Parks’ Grocery was no exception. It relocated to Alexander Avenue and was renamed Parks’ Superette.

Gene Mills, author of Another Time, Another Place: Growing up in Swannanoa, recalls working at the first store after school and on weekends for 15 cents an hour. Here are some of his recollections:

Most Mill people [workers at Beacon Mill in Swannanoa] bought their groceries on credit every week. Mr. Parks would cash their checks on Friday, taking out what they owed him. They would come straight back up to the counter, find a clerk, and charge their groceries again. They never got out of debt to Mr. Parks, and of course, that was the way he wanted it.

The customers gave their grocery lists to the clerk. He went all over the store and brought the groceries back to the counter, where the items were placed in bags or boxes. We even delivered groceries for people without cars.

To see artifacts from Parks’ Grocery, visit the Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mountain where over 50 items from the store will be displayed in a special exhibit during the museum’s 2012 season.