Even longtime North Georgia residents are struck at how Gainesville’s Atlanta Highway transformed so quickly.
That stretch of road from Jesse Jewell Parkway to Chicopee today is primarily businesses operated by or catering to the Hispanic population, which settled in nearby neighborhoods the last few decades. Several churches along Atlanta Highway converted into mostly Hispanic congregations.
Jim Shope remembers years-ago businesses such as Propes Furniture, Busy Restaurant, Dairy Queen, Burger Chef, Jack Burch Music, Mathis Coin Laundry, an upholstery shop and V.C. Wilson Auto Shop on one side of the road. Many North Georgians tasted their first pizza at Mr. Pizza.
The old Hall County Hospital, now Top of Gainesville, up a hill off Atlanta Highway, was used for apartments. Southern Auto Parts, Gainesville Glass, Jake’s Cleaners and Peachtree Pharmacy were other businesses.
Where Gene Tyner ran a grocery store, Hispanic fare is now sold.
On the right side leaving Gainesville were Doug’s Drive-In, Herrington Tire, Westside Pharmacy, Wallis Service Station, Liz and Roy’s Frames, the Red Barn Pool Room, Snack Shack, B &W Restaurant, Crow’s Trailer Park, Chicken City Motors and the Polar Girl, a popular ice cream place near where Industrial Boulevard comes into Atlanta Highway. That building now houses a travel business. A Dollar General replaced the Red Barn Pool Room.
A pawn shop is in Doug’s Drive-in building. Doug Meeks operated the eatery for more than a half century. It was a popular stop for politicians, as well as late-night cruisers. The Saturday night Civic Building square dance crowd would pack the place when the pickers quit picking. Doug’s was open when other restaurants closed and delivered wee-hours orders from textile mills in a 1958 Ford station wagon.
Jimmy Caras operated the popular Imperial Restaurant, succeeding John Nicholson, and L.P. McNeal Jr. ran the Georgianna Restaurant, famous for its fried chicken, and also once operated by Nicholson. Jim Shope’s wife Carol made 63 cents an hour plus tips waiting tables there. The Georgianna also contained a motel.
The Steak House and motor court, another former Nicholson business, and the Blue Front Café also were popular restaurants. Nicholson later built a popular drive-in restaurant on what was then West Broad Street near Alta Vista Cemetery.
Who could forget the landmark Skyview Drive-In movie theater, the first of its kind in North Georgia, where many cuddling couples shared their first kisses? It was on the right before you get to the Chicopee bridge. Hugh K. Turk’s Texaco Station, Sailers automatic laundry and trailer park, and Little Giant Grocery were in the same vicinity.
Kesler’s Tire and Alignment Service is among few businesses that have persevered. Founded by B.A. Kesler, his two sons, Phillip and Gary, along with president Leon Smith continue to operate the company. Leon has been with Kesler’s since 1959, working at Pepsi-Cola Co. just one day before walking across the street and joining the tire firm.
Arrow Tire Co. is out of business, but its sign remains on the building that houses Southern Ladies, a chic-and-shabby outlet operated by Cathy Black. Another longtime Atlanta Highway business is Complete Auto Parts, founded by Walter Shoaf and now run by his son Terry. Mama Ruth’s Restaurant also is an old standby.
American Legion Post 7, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Vets, as well as the Moose Lodge, used to call Atlanta Highway home. Chemell’s Hatchery and Adams Hatchery were among poultry businesses on the
• • •
Dot’s Fabric Shop, next to Turk’s Texaco station, started out in the basement of Dot West’s nearby home, later moving to a building on the highway near where Memorial Park Drive intersects today. She opened in 1954 and operated it for 35 years. Her brother, Bud Lunsford, legendary race car driver, operated a race car business behind her store.
Atlanta Highway truly was the highway to Atlanta in those days. There were no Interstate 985 or 85, not even a McEver Road, an alternate route to the city. All that traffic bred businesses, many automobile-related. Jessie D. Smith and Cuz Bell Volkswagen were among car dealerships. Used car lots today continue to line the stretch.
Dot West lived in that area till about 18 years ago. “It’s not anything like it used to be,” she said. “I could write a book about all my memories.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays.