Grocery stores fill an important role in a small town, as most of us can attest. They help us get dinner on the table quickly, or save breakfast when we’ve run out of milk and the kids want cereal. A corner grocery store is such a handy establishment in times like those.
My parents had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina after they’d met and married in St. Petersburg, Florida in the mid-1960s. In both of those fairly large cities, Charlotte and St. Pete, there was a plethora of grocery stores to choose from, no matter what one might need. Diaper emergencies were solved, cough syrup needs met, no matter the hour. How convenient that was for city dwelling parents.
Then, in 1976, my parents moved to sweet little St. Joe Beach. As you can imagine, there were no large chain grocery stores on St. Joe Beach; not an IGA, nor a Piggly Wiggly, not even a convenience store. I can imagine my mom’s concern, as a city girl now living in a tiny community, when not everything was easily available when her daughters were hungry or sick.
But then, mom and dad found Beach Grocery.
Beach Grocery was a tiny little store on the corner of Americus and Bay streets. Some of you may remember it, too. The store was housed in a wooden building, and had just enough room in its parking lot out front for about three cars. I couldn’t believe how small it was the first time daddy let me go with him when he went inside for a gallon of milk. Compared to our old Winn Dixie in Charlotte, it was minuscule. But there was something about it… a certain friendliness… that I liked.
After we became more settled in to the community of St. Joe Beach, mom began allowing me to ride my bike the three blocks down Americus to “Beach Gro,” as we were calling it by then. If I could scrape up 25 cents I could ride to the store and buy a pack of Fruit Stripe gum, which was my favorite. If mom needed a loaf of bread, I’d head down to the store for her. I loved our little grocery store.
The best things we bought at Beach Grocery were the ingredients for dad’s chocolate sundaes. Every once in a while he and mom would get a hankering for the simple dessert, so we’d run down to the little store in his VW Bug to pick up the three ingredients: vanilla ice cream, roasted salted peanuts, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup.
We’d head straight home with our box of ice cream, jar of peanuts and can of chocolate syrup. Mom would scoop several spoonfuls of the vanilla ice cream into individual bowls. Next, she’d drizzle a generous amount of chocolate syrup over the ice cream, and then sprinkle it all with the contrasting salty peanuts for a perfect dessert. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.
Beach Grocery closed years later, and the last time I saw it, it had been painted blue. It was surrounded by RVs of various sizes. I don’t know whether the building was used as storage, or an office, perhaps, but it certainly was no longer our treasured little grocery store.
Hurricane Michael finished off Beach Grocery. The building is now gone, and all that remains of it is what survives in the memories of the people who lived on the beach in those days. Sometimes, when I get homesick for that special time in the history of Gulf County, I’ll scoop some ice cream into a bowl, drizzle it with chocolate syrup and sprinkle it with peanuts. That simple dessert takes me back to that equally simple time, and I love it. I hope you’ll try it soon, too.
Do you remember Beach Grocery? I’d love to hear more about its history and what your memories are of the little store. Share your thoughts with me via email at Steph@WhatSouthernFolksEat.com
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com
This article originally appeared on The Star: What Southern Folks Eat: Beach Grocery and sundaes for warm days