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Johnny Vardeman: The story of Sherwood Plaza's rise, fall and transition
Sherwood Plaza
Workers put the finishing touches on Belk-Gallant at the new Sherwood Plaza on South Enota Drive in Gainesville in 1966. - photo by Times file photo

It was a big deal back in December 1966 when John Thompson opened his Sherwood Rocking Chair Theater in Sherwood Plaza Shopping Center on South Enota Drive in Gainesville.

The movie house cost $300,000 to build and would seat 650. It featured plush seats that rocked while you ate your popcorn, drank your Coke and watched a movie. Tickets cost just 50 cents for children, 75 cents for adults during the day and $1.25 at night. The first movies scheduled were “How To Steal a Million” starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn and “Fantastic Voyage.”

Thompson also operated the Ritz and Royal theaters downtown and opened a screen in the Blue Ridge Shopping Center off Shallowford Road. After he sold his theaters, the Sherwood Theater became a “dollar movie” in 1988 with admission costing only a dollar. That price later went up a quarter, the original ticket price back in 1966. The “last picture show” at Sherwood, March 28, 1993, was “Bodyguard” starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.

As big as the movie house’s grand opening was in 1966, the opening of Sherwood Plaza Shopping Center itself was an even more significant event. It represented a massive shift of retail from its traditional downtown base.  

Gallant-Belk maintained its store downtown for a while, but a new Belk-Gallant joined the shopping center. Sears had been the first store to open there in 1965. 

Other stores began to open, including Gem Jewelry and Southern Shoe Stores, both of which had moved from downtown. Rose’s “10-cent store” also shifted from downtown. Other tenants were Singer Sewing Machine, Earl Dean’s Barber Shop and Whit and Bobbie’s beauty shop.

Later Modree’s women’s clothing, Martin’s Men’s Store, Fashion Villa, Eckerd’s, A & P and Morgan’s Cleaners would join Sherwood. 

All of those major stores made Sherwood pretty much the retail center of Gainesville, for several years anyway. The development of Lakeshore Mall and other shopping centers spreading out around Gainesville caused Sherwood to gradually lose its luster.

Some of the stores moved to the mall, and others simply shut their doors for good.

Various troubles plagued the shopping center over the years. An expensive renovation was planned after vacancies began to grow, but there was a squabble among the owners that postponed any major upgrades to attract new tenants. The city of Gainesville demanded changes and upgrades because of the loss of business there and the general deteriorating appearance of the center. Other problems included cancer-causing asbestos having to be removed from some of the buildings.

Eighteen businesses had occupied the plaza when it opened, but by 1992, only six remained. 

The shopping center today is substantially changed, but busy with Northeast Georgia Health System taking over much of the strip, including where Food Lion grocery store once was. There is a definite medical focus apparently because of its location near Northeast Georgia Medical Center. A hearing aid place, Advanced Eye Clinic, Lanier Dermatology, the medical center’s Rehabilitation Institute and Urgent Care occupy spaces on the property. The health system bought the shopping center itself from Selig Corp. two years ago, but not the other buildings on the site. It renovated large spaces for classrooms for various training programs and administrative purposes.

Loco’s Deli and El Sombrero restaurants thrive, in addition to Hair Artistry beauty shop.

Outparcels have developed, including Spherion employment agency, Wendy’s and Dollar Tree. Royal Nails and Spa now occupies the adjacent former Regions Bank branch. 

Businesses and offices across South Enota Drive contribute to a general improvement of an area that for a time seemed to be on its last legs.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; email vardeman1956@att.net.

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