New businesses bring back old memories for residents
photos/ Angela Reinhardt
Mimi’s Eats & Treats owner Sherry Schillaci, left, and John Bell assist customers during lunch. Mimi’s is one of several new businesses in Tate that have brought new foot traffic - and new life - to the Pickens community.
Rewind a few years and the heart of the Tate community, the intersection at highways 53 and 108 locals call “the Tate four way,” was a ghost town - a shadow of a place that once bustled with activity. The strip of buildings that housed the Allred & Jordan Drug Co. and soda fountain for a half a century, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, a bus stop, and the old Post Office were vacant. The train depot was by most accounts an eyesore – dilapidated and succumbing to the elements.
But in what could be likened to the planets aligning in favor for the tiny unincorporated community, the area has been revitalized by builders and business owners who wanted to see it thrive again. A new soda fountain and drug store modeled after the old Allred & Jordan Drug Co. strikes a familiar, nostalgic chord, while it and other new businesses bring a renewed sense of pride for Tate residents.
“It brings back so many wonderful memories,” said lifetime resident Jane Griffeth, who is also president of the Tate-based Marble Valley Friends civic organization. “Those buildings sat empty until just recently. They were for sale for a long time but no one was interested. We are just delighted these nice people found us and redid things. It’s done so much to bring the community together.”
“Those nice people” Mrs. Griffeth refers to is a family who own and operate three businesses there – Mimi’s Eats & Treats, Bell Pharmacy and 53 Market – as well as Scott and Tina O’Conner, the property owners who refurbished the strip of buildings on Highway 53 East just before the railroad tracks.
Mimi’s Eats models the Allred & Jordan Drug Co. that operated out of the same building. Pictured are prescription bottles and tickets from the old pharmacy.
A perfect partnership
Tina said she and her husband - builders who have also renovated well-known structures in Jasper like the one on the corner of Main Street and Highway 53 (the old NAPA building), the Roper house on South Main, and Trinity Church - had been driving by the vacant buildings for years watching them fall further into disrepair.
“We thought it was such a shame it was going to waste,” Tina said.
Scott said they tried to buy the foreclosed properties for years but “the bank wouldn’t budge on the price,” he said. “Finally, they did.”
The O’Conners started renovations with the building that’s now home to Armor Plumbing, and then moved on to the others in the retail strip. The husband/wife team salvaged many historic parts of the buildings, which were constructed between the 1940s and 1950s. The renovated interiors boast original exposed rafters and hardwood floors, as well as other original elements like the shelf behind the counter at Allred & Jordan that now sits on the other side of the room at Mimi’s Eats & Treats.
One area that couldn’t be reclaimed, the O’Conners said, is a portion of the floor inside Mimi’s where the old bus ticket window used to be located. That section of floor was too worn down by foot traffic and had to be replaced.
“We started by renovating the old Post Office, where the plumber is now,” Scott said, “and this family from Mississippi, the Schillacis, saw it and wanted to put their business there but it was already leased. We got the other buildings done, had been hoping and praying the right people would come along - and they did.”
Like the O’Conners, Mimi’s Eats & Treats owner Sherry Schillaci and her family had also been driving through Tate during its hibernation years. Last November, Schillaci’s daughter Lindsey Hannah opened 53 Market, a home décor shop, in the building that housed Marble Valley Piggly Wiggly for many years. A Tate native, Mrs. Griffeth said the grocer had “the best meat cutter in town” and recalled a pink marble pig that welcomed customers.
Original plans for 53 Market were different than the eventual outcome, but in the end things worked out better for the family and community.
“Lindsey was going to relocate to the space Mimi’s is in now, but she became so successful she stayed,” Schillaci said. “We found those three buildings and it snowballed from there. We loved Scott and Tina and it became an instant friendship. We all wanted to see this place do well, and we want to support the community and be here for them. We all love what we do.”
Bringing history to life
Schillaci, who had retired from IT, heard stories about Allred & Jordan Drug Co. – a joint soda fountain and pharmacy - from locals who patronized her daughter’s business, the 53 Market.
“The community wanted this,” Schillaci said. “They wanted the soda fountain and the old drug store – and they missed the egg salad they served. We really listened to the public and wanted to get it right. It’s been great. People are excited to walk in the door and have loved the revitalization.”
Allred & Jordan Drug Co. opened in 1947 and was run by Arthur Allred, John Jordan and Marion Allred over the years. It closed more than five decades later in early 2000. Mimi’s echoed their model and opened this August, nearly 20 years after Allred’s shuttered its windows for the last time. Mimi’s serves sandwiches, ice cream, milkshakes, bagels, desserts and more, and guests can belly up to the counter (which is in the same place it was at Allred’s) for a step back in time at a soda fountain-style restaurant – the egg salad recipe is even the same.
“The new businesses bring back memories of the old drug store,” Mrs. Griffeth said recalling Tate’s vibrant years. “Allred & Jordan’s had a wonderful soda fountain and ice cream - people loved to come in and get the ice cream. A lot of the young people worked there as well. It would get crowded after school let out.”
She reminisced about taking the Trailways bus from the Tate bus stop to Atlanta all those years ago. The ticket counter was located inside the drug store.
“I had to change buses in Atlanta,” Mrs. Griffith said. “I attended college in Forsyth, but sometimes you would have to go to Atlanta for the dentist or to go shopping. You could leave from Tate.”
Schillaci’s other daughter, Katie Bell, will open her independent pharmacy in January in the same location as the old pharmacy, inside Mimi’s past the counter in the rear of the store.
“We knew the stories,” Bell said. “My sister’s customers would come in talking about the pharmacy and soda fountain. I was at Walgreens for years and wanted out of corporate, and to open in a small town. I want to give customers more of a personal touch you can’t get that at chains, and get to know the community.”
More business, stronger community
There are several other new businesses in Tate that add even more of a sense of vitality. The Beauty Bar, located behind Mimi’s Eats in the same building, has a wide variety of salon services from hair and makeup, to unique offerings like micropigmentation, microblading, hair extensions, henna brows, as well as yoga, barre, and other fitness and nutrition services.
Additional businesses that have opened in the past few years in Tate include the North Station AutoHaus, a European vehicle repair shop in a newly-renovated building adjacent to The Beauty Bar; independent butcher Tate Meat & Market that has in-house cut meats, seafood, produce and groceries; Bear Creek Tobacco; and H&H Thrift.
After years sitting vacant – and a decade of planning by local leaders - the historic Tate depot has also enjoyed a resurrection and facelift. A few years ago, with the help of $1.2 million in federal grant money, the depot was moved across Highway 53 to its new location and renovated on the exterior. The depot sits empty most the year, with no local group or the county government taking on management at this point, but during Tate’s annual Tate Day festival the doors are opened for visitors and vendors.
The success of the 2018 Tate Day, held just a couple weekends ago, is proof the renovations and new businesses have reinvigorated the community.
“It was a good experience and a good crowd all day,” Mrs. Griffeth said. “We had 38 vendors, which is very good for Tate, and I’d heard the businesses did well, too. We’re just thrilled to see things going so well.”