Happenings

Bearfoot Tavern housed Macon’s first modern grocery store. Do you remember what it was?

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series by The Telegraph and Positively 478 called “In Plain Sight” that highlights buildings people see every day, but might not know the history behind .

In a vibrant gastropub in downtown Macon, people bustle in and out the doors, glasses clink and the smell of quality food fills the air, but the location used to feature a very different environment.

The building where Bearfoot Tavern, 468 Second St., sits has had many identities: a bookstore, a wholesale grocer, a clothing retailer and now a restaurant. But it was also the first modern grocery store in Macon.

“Thinking about the history of this particular building, it’s had a lot of use,” said Lauren Mauldin, director of neighborhood revitalization at Historic Macon. “It was the first Piggly Wiggly, therefore the first modern grocery store in Macon.”

Mauldin said the building was likely constructed sometime in the late 1880s and was first used as a wholesale grocer called T.J. Carstarphen & Co.

From 1911 to 1915, the building housed Brown’s Bookstore before the owner announced he was moving closer to Cherry Street.

Then, Piggly Wiggly came on the scene.

The grocery store chain opened for the first time in Macon at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, 1918, according to Telegraph archives.

“Come in and get a souvenir and see for yourself that the Piggly Wiggly store is different from any store in the world,” read the opening line of the advertisement.

Piggly Wiggly announced less than a year later that Macon’s store broke all records for September sales by selling more than $10,000 worth of goods for several weeks that month.

For the week ending in Oct. 4, the store’s total sales were $11,041.98. The store opened another Piggly Wiggly a few doors down from the first to prevent overcrowding

In 1933, Piggly Wiggly had an advertisement in the Telegraph saying there were only two more days until they moved the store next door to a larger location, and they were having a sale.

“We want to sell our merchandise — rather than move it,” the advertisement read.

Piggly Wiggly moved out in 1933, opening the door for another store to move in. In September 1934, Georgia Market House opened as a country store that sold locally-raised produce from this location until 2001, Mauldin said.

Fashion 365 opened at the location in 2002 and closed in 2010. Then the building was vacant until Bearfoot Tavern opened in 2016.

“I just think it’s really intriguing to see that evolution of space and how what … was built to be a wholesale grocer can now today be a restaurant and bar,” she said. “It just kind of goes to show you historic buildings are a little more versatile than people give them credit for.”

Cesare Mammarella, owner of Bearfoot Tavern, said they bought the building in 2015, and took around a year to renovate it.

They stripped the building to the bone and put in new power, water and everything else. Mammarella said they tried to rehabilitate the building back to its former glory and use as much of the original materials as they could.

“We repurposed a lot of the wood that we were able to tear out of here that you see in the restaurant. Some of the table tops, the walls are a lot of the original wood that was in here already,” he said. “We were excited to be able to do that and save that historical part of the original building.”

Mammarella said they didn’t find any lost treasures while renovating the building, but they did find a few surprises.

“What was really surprising to me when we started uncovering this was the amount of like heart pine wood that they used and the structure and the thickness of the beams, and really an appreciation for how they used to really overdo things back in the day especially as far as the great wood that was used in some of these structures.”

Mammarella said when they purchased this location, they were able to give Bearfoot Tavern the gastropub atmosphere with the food, beer, beer garden and bar. He said the building was the perfect size for what they needed.

“It was a project of love really kind of redoing this. ... We did it slowly. We did it carefully. We really tried to honor the historical aspect of the building, so that takes a little bit longer,” he said. “But, I think we’ve accomplished something that’s really great and I think a great addition to the historical aspect of the community.”

Telegraph archives were used in this report.

Jenna Eason is a multimedia reporter at The Telegraph and creates serviceable news around food, culture and people who make a difference in the Macon community. Jenna joined The Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2018 with a journalism degree.
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