In the 1960s a visit to 511 Alabama Avenue in Bremen meant walking into Thriftown Grocery, a neighborhood grocery store owned by a local family with a focus on fresh food, great customer service, and knowing everyone by name. Fast forward nearly 60 years, and you’ll find grocery history repeating itself at the same address.
Thriftown has humble beginnings, originally opening in the 1950s near the corner of Alabama Avenue and Highway 78, where Walgreens currently is. It was owned by Donnie Rogers and his family and managed by Faye Ward, who ran the books for the store for 45 years. The store moved to 511 Alabama Avenue in the 1960s. After the store closed in the 2000s, Save-a-Lot took over the space until it closed its doors two months ago (read that story here).
After Save-a-Lot closed, many different businesses and larger chains wanted to take the space. However, it was given to Chad Smith, a local businessman with personal ties to Thriftown Grocery. “I grew up in the back of the store while my granddaddy [Jake Smith] was working as the butcher at the store,” he said. Chad’s pitch to the owners was simple: Resurrect the original Thriftown Grocery. “This always has and always will be Thriftown’s building,” he said. When it was time for the property owners to take a vote on who would get the space, they turned to Faye Ward and asked for her decision and she said to give it to Chad.
Since then Chad, his wife Alicia, and daughter Brittney, have been hard at work bringing back the original look, feel, and focus of Thriftown Grocery. “We’re the neighborhood store, and we’re good with that. That’s what I want,” he said. And those who remember the original Thriftown are loving having a piece of history back in the community. “I’ve tried to keep this thing back old school and we’re getting a good response from it. “As crazy as 2020’s been, they come in here because there are a lot of people in this town remember the old Thriftown, It’s almost a sense of comfort from back when times were a little different,” Chad said.
In fact, many locals have come into the store to reminisce about their time working there. “A lot of people here worked in this place after school, bagging groceries in the 70s and 80s. Our first big weekend after opening I gave tours to the people that came back that were baggers here. They wanted to go through the back to see if it was still the same. We had a guy have his wife take his picture where the time clock used to be and post it to social media.”
However, of all the local residents that have stories and memories of Thriftown Grocery, one very important person to the history of the store has already made several appearances. “Donnie Rogers, the original owner, just turned 90. He’s been through here about five or six times. He gets to crying every time he comes in here because he’s still passionate about it. He bagged my first bag of groceries the day I opened. I invited him in and told him it would be an honor if he would bag my first bag of groceries and kind of pass the torch,” Chad said.
Thriftown prides itself on bringing in as much locally sourced products as possible, including produce from local farmers, eggs from eastern Alabama, honey from right in Bremen, pickles from Waco, and meat from the west Georgia region, featuring Sanderson Farms chicken. In fact, Jake’s Meat Market, named after Chad’s grandfather, is the centerpiece of the whole store and brings back the concept of having a neighborhood butcher. “Most all the chains buy prepackaged meats. I have people come in here every day because we custom cut the meat. We had people come in to buy their hams for Thanksgiving, and we’d ask them while they were here if they’d like us to go ahead and slice it for them.”
Overall, Chad’s passion for the rebirth of Thriftown Grocery is evident to everyone who talks to him when they come into the store. “I’m very passionate about this. It’s one of those heart things. I went to school here, played sports here, know everybody in the town; and I told my wife I feel like I’m running for office here every day I come into work. Just seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, shaking hands and hugging necks. It’s been pretty overwhelming the amount of support from the community already.”
For more information about Thriftown Grocery, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Thriftown-Grocery-117147833482736.