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Century-old building poised for parking lot
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The familiar painted Snowdrift Flour sign is barely readable on the side of the old brick Carter Wholesale building at the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and Maple Street in downtown Gainesville.

Soon the building will crumble as the City of Gainesville plans to use it for a parking lot or other future development. Greater South Supply, which has relocated, occupied the building the last few years.

M. Baxter Carter founded Carter Wholesale in 1908 and operated it with his son Oliver for many years. M.B. Carter's grandsons, Linton, Roy and James, continued the business until the mid-1970s and sold the building in 1977 to Greater South Supply.

"It was the hottest place -- and the coldest -- to work," said Rives Carter, son of Lint Carter. He and his brother, Allen, and their cousin Andy, son of Roy Carter, would work there during summers or after school.

The main heat was a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the building, where employees and customers would gravitate when they had a chance in the winter. The company sold groceries, barbed wire, feed, roofing, dynamite, Coca-Cola syrup, lard, flour among stacks of canned goods and other merchandise.

Sugar and fruit jars were hot sellers. The company had to keep track of anybody who bought large quantities, which most likely were headed to moonshiners. Revenue agents had a room on the top floor of the nearby Dixie-Hunt Hotel, Allen Carter said, and watched through binoculars who was buying big supplies of jars and sugar.

Andy Carter remembers one worker who would sweep spilled sugar from the warehouse floor, store it and probably sell it to moonshiners in Dawson County. Floors in the building slanted toward the loading dock to make it easier to roll sugar barrels to waiting trucks.

Farmers were good customers for dairy feed, but so were their wives. The Carter boys said the wives would pick out cloth feed bags with certain dress patterns invariably at the bottom of a stack that would be the hardest to get to.

The warehouse wasn't exactly automated, but it had a cantankerous hand-operated elevator between floors. Boyce Wade, who was a shipping clerk and salesman for Carter over three decades, recalls frequently having to untangle the cables, which were prone to jump off their drum if not operated correctly.

The warehouse also had a system for getting orders or money from the middle of the building to the office. A cable ran from the floor to near the top of the building, then would slant down toward the office. A chain had to be pulled just right to sling orders clipped to the cable or placed in a container to the office. Receipts or change would return the same way.

The company sent trucks all over North Georgia and into part of South Carolina. Carter once had warehouses in Toccoa, Winder and Westminster, S.C. A corn mill operated next to the warehouse in Gainesville at one time, Wade said.

Rives Carter remembers as a boy, age 12, he got into trouble closing the vault door on Mary Lucy Lilly, the bookkeeper. His father rescued her, and "I heard a whole lot about that," he said.

Being in the grocery business, the Carter families always had plenty to eat, Andy Carter said. "But some nights we weren't always sure what we were getting," he said, because his father would bring home food in cans that were dented or missing labels.

The Carter boys remember so well the distinctive aromas mingling together in certain areas of the warehouse: tobacco, coffee or other goods.

Carter Wholesale was at ground zero in the 1936 tornado, next to the pants factory where so many died. Lint Carter was blown from a door into sacks of flour, which probably saved his life, Rives Carter said.

The building lost its roof and much of its stock soaked by rain. One of the company's trucks was found weeks later under debris from the pants factory, but it continued to be used.

Carter's was the last of the big Gainesville wholesale grocers. The others were Peck's, Mauney and H.A. Terrell. Other smaller distributors included Whitaker and Pierce Wholesale, which remains in business.

The Carter brothers decided to close their business because of changing times, large supermarkets and the investment they would have to make in updating their facility. Their sons chose different careers.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville 30501. His column appears Sundays and on First published Feb. 10, 2008.