David Unruh recalls when the 700 block of Market Street in downtown Chattanooga was a bustling place featuring a row of retail shops.
“It was a good chain of everyday, moderately priced retailers,” he said. “Downtown was a beehive of activity.”
Today, the east side of the 700 block is in transition as a developer dismantles most of its buildings with plans for new ground-floor commercial space and condominiums above it.
Much of the block had slowly deteriorated over the years as retailers moved away along with downtown residents.
But, Mr. Unruh and other long-time Chattanoogans recall when the block and the central city was the region’s retail and entertainment center boasting department stores, movie theaters, cafeterias and even a bowling alley.
Chattanooga businessman and former state legislator David Copeland said one of the buildings on the 700 block, a former Eckerd Drugs, had for decades held canvas curtains made by his company.
He said that in the mid-1960s, he estimated, measured and sold the curtains to go in four large windows.
“My mother cut and sewed them in the shop on Fuller Road and I climbed the ladders to install the four curtains,” said Mr. Copeland, noting they were still in place until recently and he was amazed the canvas products lasted for 45 years.
Asked about the razing of the buildings, Mr. Copeland said that while people can get nostalgic, change is inevitable.
Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice William M. “Mickey” Barker of Chattanooga remembers he was a frequent downtown visitor and worked in the central city as a youth.
He can still list businesses that were on the 700 block, such as Bakers Shoes, Three Sisters Clothing and the old American National Bank building.
Mr. Barker, who plans to retire from the court on Sept. 1, recalled spending his days downtown, seeing movies and taking in other activities.
“The place was packed with people,” he said. “There were all sorts of things going on.”
Mike McGauley, who heads Fidelity Trust Co., said there were an array of department stores downtown such as Lovemans, JCPenney, Sears, and Miller Brothers.
“There were no malls. You had a full complement in the center city,” he said. “All of downtown was connected by viable retail merchants and establishments.”
However, as people moved away from downtown, so did much of the retail. Downtown’s advocates are working to recapture some of that activity.
RiverCity Co., the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group, has a retail marketing initiative it’s putting into place that includes offering incentives to businesses, which Mr. Unruh believes will be well received.
“First is entertainment and restaurants, then housing, and retail is the last frontier,” said Mr. Unruh, RiverCity project director.
Staff Photo by Tim Barber -- Developer Trey Stanley, left, signals to S&H Erectors lift driver Jerry Hardeman as he positions his forklift to load decorative stone onto a flatbed truck. Mr. Stanley is overseeing the demolition of 100-year-old structures in the 700 block of Market Street.
While downtown has made progress, more is to come, he said.
“There has been a lot of building downtown. We haven’t reaped the benefits of that yet,” he said, citing the flurry of housing which has and is continuing to go up.
Trey Stanley, who is redeveloping the 700 block, said demolition and site clearing should be done by mid-August.
Mr. Stanley said nothing unusual has turned up during the demolition of the century-old buildings.
However, Doug Stein of Stein Construction Co., which is working on demolition of the 700 block, said he found an interesting old bottle on another dismantling project underway on the 500 block.
The bottle is embossed with the name J.W. Vetter, Mr. Stein said. He said his research showed the man to be a merchant in Chattanooga in late 1800s and early 1900s.
Mr. Stanley said he is saving vintage construction timbers from the 700 block buildings for use on later projects.
In addition, the former Eckerd Drugs building has a number of large, marble blocks on its face, which he hopes to incorporate into the common space of the new building.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...