Over the years, a lot of businesses have called the Port City home. Unfortunately, some have closed their doors due to changes in the economy or advances in technology that changed the way people shop. Big box stores devouring the retail and landscape have also played a role in the closure of these once prominent businesses. Whether you’ve grown up here or recently relocated, you’ll be surprised by what businesses used to exist in Mobile, AL.
Bama Drive-In and Air Sho Drive-In Movie
Over 60 years ago, drive-in theaters dotted the land throughout Alabama and much of the country. Drivers could pull up and watch a movie projected onto a large screen while the sound came through speakers near the car. Both the Bama Drive-In and the Air-Sho gave movie-goers the ultimate outdoor theater experience with food and the latest hits from Hollywood. Sadly, drive-in theaters began to close in the late 1970s and now only about 300 remain in business today. A myriad of reasons contributed to their decline including the energy crisis of the 1970s, inclement weather that prevented showings which resulted in lost revenue and the vast amount of technology that improved the indoor cinema experience.
Not only was Gayfer’s the premier retail destination for shoppers in the South, but it was actually headquartered in Mobile. The first Gayfer’s was opened in downtown Mobile in 1879. After Gayfer’s was acquired by the Mercantile Stores chain in the 1950s, the popular store saw quite the expansion. Teenage girls could be appointed to be a “Gayfer Girl”. This is what we would refer to today as a “fashionista”. Despite becoming one of the largest shopping destinations in the South, the department stores were closed or converted after Mercantile Stores was acquired by Dillard’s.
Before big box stores such as Target and Walmart became the retail giants that they are, there was TG&Y. This charming discount store offered shoppers a variety of selections at low prices. Ask any Mobilian where they spent their allowance or bought candy for 5 cents, and it’s likely it was at TG&Y. Unsuccessful rebranding and expansion attempts, as well as the growth in popularity of big box stores, led to the demise of TG&Y.
Woolworth’s is the originator of dining and discount shopping all in the same place. The popular stores were the hub of many suburban shopping destinations. The lunch counters offered patrons a selection of hamburgers and milkshakes while the store itself had a little bit of everything. Walmart’s deep discounts and popularity eventually took over Woolworth’s top spot in the retail world.
Blue Bird Hardware & Seed Store
If you needed anything, you could have found it at the Blue Bird Hardware and Seed Store located on Old Shell Road. The art deco architecture of the building gave shoppers insight that this wasn’t just any hardware store. After closing, the store lay dormant for years but was recently purchased and with plans of making the local icon a mix-used development and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, you can still see where many of these landmarks once claimed their residence in Mobile. While we may love our internet shopping and the discounts the big box stores give us, it’s important to reflect where it all began.
Author: Michelle Murrill
CEO Southern View Media