Who's Jim Garrett and What are "Fancy Groceries"?
by Anne Adams
You really can’t miss the sign on the side of the building on the Athens courthouse square. In tall letters it says “Jim Garrett, Fancy Groceries” and it’s matched on the opposite side of the square by the similar Peterson Bros. building sign. Both advertise businesses that once occupied space on the square, and they are the recent re-creation of such signs by Charlie Bullock, a local artist who calls himself a “wall dog.”
According to an Athens Review article from March 13, 2017, about these signs, Mr. Bullock explained that the original “wall dogs” were artists who in the early 1900s painted these wall scenes to advertise businesses in those buildings. He is partnering with the city of Athens to restore some of these signs, marking businesses operated by now deceased individuals who in their time were an important part of the Athens community. Also, of course, many of these persons often have descendants in the area.
So who was Jim Garrett and what are “fancy groceries”?
According to the 1914 “History of Texas and Texans”, James W. Garrett was born in 1873 on a Henderson County farm north of Athens. And there his “life upon the farm was a counterpart of that of other country youths in that time and place and his education came from the rural college of the same neighborhood.” He completed a high school course in Athens and then at age 23 joined his older brother as a clerk in the office of a local retail company. In that position, he “applied himself as diligently behind the counter as he did formerly behind the plow and made rapid progress toward the time when he could see his own name listed among the commercial firms on Athens.”
Then in 1910, he established his own grocery business. The author of the history book then continued, “As a merchant, his start gradually ascended until it reached the zenith of prosperity when he constructed his own business house, a two-story double brick structure in the southwest corner of the square.” Garrett was described as a “… vigorous specimen of physical manhood and everything he does seems typical of his personality which is frank and genial and reliable to the last…” Also, “…his name ‘Jim Garrett’ in big letters on the outside of his store, seems to convey confidence to all who see it.”
Mr. Garrett married Mary Roberson in 1895, and they eventually had ten children. He was also affiliated with several local fraternal organizations and “his church is the Christian denomination.” After his death in 1928, the July 12, 1928 Athens Weekly Review obituary stated “…In his quiet way, Mr. Garrett performed many acts of charity and although providing for a large family taxed his means to the limit, he always responded to the appeal of the needy.” Apparently the Garrett Grocery business continued for the next several years.
Yet while we remember the man who was behind the sign, there’s still that question - what does “fancy groceries” mean?
One source says that technically when a store sold “groceries” that meant they sold staples – or basic food items. But if they sold “fancy groceries” then they also carried non-food items such as laundry soap and paper products as well.
Learning about local history certainly can help us understand the original county residents, but also about their descendants who still live among us. And as we do so it’s a way to connect the present with the past.