If these walls could talk - Alfords, Park N Shop, and the FNB of Monterey

Park N Shop as it appeared in 1983, not long after it took over the building originally built to house Alford's IGA.
Jeff Kenney

CULVER HISTORY CORNER is a semi-reg­ular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver. whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.

It's been a while since our last entry in this ongoing series of "virtual" visits to major sites of Culver (and their history), and we recently wandered west on Academy Road as far as the former Mr. T's drug store and even to the Plaza and Forest Place apartments.

There's some debate (perhaps some of it tongue-in-cheek and some of it not) as to whether the business district on Lake Shore Drive in Culver across from the town beach qualifies properly as "uptown" or whether the spate of businesses on the far north end of Culver ought to claim that moniker (leaving our friends near the town park under the banner of "mid-town"), even if such a debate might elicit some laughs from more urban-minded folk who consider any deliniation in a town a couple of miles long, at best, to be a bit silly.

Be that as it may, Culver today would be sorely lacking without the many businesses on, and north of Academy Road at Lake Shore. A fairly recent addition to that collection is the Culver branch of the First National Bank of Monterey.

Back in 2010, The Culver Citizen (in this case under the authorship of yours truly) published a lengthy cover story detailing the history of the First National Bank of Monterey itself, which dates back to 1910, and its venerable patriarch, "Clip" Wamsley, who began his career with FNB in 1950.

Culver saw the opening of its own branch of the bank (which has other branches in Winamac and North Judson, in 1993 at 1049 N. Lake Shore, between the Culver Dental Clinic and Park N' Shop supermarket, with branch manager Mark Wamsley greeting customers. The bank represented the first major alternate to the longstanding downtown bank in Culver, which had been the powerhouse State Exhange starting around the turn of the 20th century, and which had changed hands several times in the latter part of the same century.

Like it's central bank in the town of its namesake, the First National Bank of Monterey has made a small-town, personal approach its stock and trade in the years since (a much deeper look at FNB of Monterey can be found here: http://thepilotnews.com/content/monterey-bank-and-%E2%80%98clip%E2%80%99...)

A few steps north sits one of Culver's staple businesses for more than half a century, Park N' Shop, at 1105 N. Lake Shore Drive.

The property itself had been farmland for years up to its 1978 development as Alford's IGA, listed in 1880 as belonging to J. Duddleson (a name which came to be associated with Culver during the Civil War period), and by 1898 to L. Dillon. The Dillon name remained attached into the 20th century, from Arthur Dillon in 1948, to Mildred Dillon starting in 1956. The Dillon property itself could justify a separate article, and encompassed a large amount of land in the vicinity of State Roads 10 and 17, including what is today the Culver Academies-owned pasture land named for 'Sarge' Hudson, as well as the land across SR 17 from that property, extending into the area of the former bowling alley on SR 10, and more.

In the summer of 1978, Alford's IGA, a sister store to the like-named supermarket in Argos, under the leadership of Dave Alford, was opened in a newly-constructed, airily large building. Alford's came on the scene at a period in Culver's history when just one grocery store had survived the changing economic patterns of small-town life: that of Park N' Shop, which itself dated back to 1961 in Culver, when Charles Rhodes added to the chain of Park N' Shop stores he owned in several other communities the former Deckard's Super Market at 115 E. Jefferson (home today of Rideon Bicycles).

Two years later, however, Rhodes upped the ante by opened Park N' Shop in a "new, modern," steel-sided store (much larger than 115 Jefferson had been), east of its former location on land occupied today by part of the Culver Cove parking lot.

By the late 1970s, most of the many small groceries which had operated in Culver (including, at one point, no less than three in the downtown area and one on Lake Shore Drive near the town park, not to mention a small grocery on the east side of Lake Maxinkuckee) had closed their doors, with Park N' Shop reigning supreme at the now-defunct street address of 207 E. Jefferson (its footprint can be seen as a concrete slab in the Cove lot immediately east of Rideon).

Alford apparently saw an opportunity to challenge the grocery store monarchy, and Alford's was born. For the record, 1978 was not the first time the IGA brand found a home in Culver.

By the early 1930s, Ben Oberlin operated a prominent IGA grocery on the west side of South Main Street downtown, at 109 S. Main, today the southernmost portion of Diva. That store bore the IGA name well into the 1950s, and it's interesting to note that IGA as a chain of locally-owned franchises dates back to 1926, and according to Wikipedia, some 8,000 grocery stores across America (including in Culver) carried the name.

In July, 1981, The Culver Citizen reported that AIford’s was celebrating its first anniversary at its North Lake Shore Drive locale (where customers were served a piece of birthday cake by Mrs. Tom Sturdevant). Dave Alford told the paper he was pleased with Culver and surrounding area residents who have made his first year such a success and "(he) is looking forward to many more years of serving them," a wish which was not to be. One must credit him for trying, however.

The Citizen during the few years of Alford's existence here is chock full of evidence of the promotional efforts of the store, whether it was regular photo features of shoppers who won so many dollars worth of free groceries, to features on staff members at the store, to various promotional gimmicks seeing print as news of the day. In coverage of the first anniversary event, Jeff Becker was listed as store manager, with Gerry Knepper as meat dept. manager and Tom Sturdevant as produce manager.

By April of 1981, the Rhodes family had purchased the IGA building, which of course was perfectly suited to moving a good-sized grocery store in. In so doing, the Culver shopping experience for that most critical of items -- food -- shifted for the first time completely away from downtown, and in fact from the most prominent business areas of town, to the edge of town.

Geographically speaking the move was not without precedent. By the early 1970s, a small "strip mall" of sorts had been established with the McKinnis Pharmacy and other businesses at the southwest corner of State Roads 10 and 17 (that strip, of course, remains) and new businesses were on the horizon along SR 10 further west. The establishment of a medical and dental clinic (respectively) a few blocks south, at Lake Shore and Academy Road -- which was joined a few years before IGA's opening by Mr. T's Pharmacy a few blocks west on Academy) had already begun a new business area for Culver, into which Park N' Shop moved easily.

The building itself remained largely unchanged from that time forth for a couple of decades (though many in Culver will recall the days when a common expectation at most grocery stores, Park N Shop included, was the "bag boy" carrying groceries to the customer's car, now a long bygone practice), until 2009, when the store underwent a massive remodel which included a new exterior, addition to the north, an elaborate mural painted by local artist John Bickel, and a rotation in the direction of the store's aisles (which formerly led the shopper from north to south, and now do so from east to west, as it were).

Some of the change is undoubedtly owed to the presence of owner Bill Rhodes, who with wife Cheryl moved to Culver to retire around that time. Park N Shop continues to be a staple of the town, even if greater mobility means some residents shop outside of Culver. It's safe to say, however, that virtually everyone relies on the grocery store at 1105 N. Lake Shore to fulfill some all-important shopping need.