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TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007
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David Holaway, co-owner of Holaway's Market on Danville Road Southwest.
Daily photo by John Godbey
David Holaway, co-owner of Holaway's Market on Danville Road Southwest.

Holaway's is where the heart is
Family-owned grocery marking 50 years thanks to its famous meat, friendly service

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

In 1957, you could have nabbed a bottle of Coca-Cola for a dime at Holaway's Grocery store in Decatur. You can still purchase that bottle of Coke at Holaway's Market, though it will cost you a little more.

The independent, family-owned grocery store is still stocking the shelves 50 years after its humble start in a small store on Moulton Street, despite dozens of rival grocery stores and supercenter stores on Beltline Road.

Holaway's is in Westmeade Plaza on Danville Road Southwest.

Co-owner David Holaway, who grew up racking Coke bottles in his dad's grocery store, takes the ebb and flow of his competition in stride.

"As time goes by another one comes and makes their little splash for awhile," he said, shrugging. "It always wears off."

Surrounded by longtime employees more like family members than co-workers and streams of customers perusing the aisles, it's easy to see why the outside world falls away when David walks into his store.

A risky venture

While Holaway's has plenty of regular customers today, its beginnings weren't so promising. Less than a year after David's father Larry and grandfather Edmon Holaway opened the original Holaways's store on Moulton Street, the Holaways considered closing its doors. That is, until an unusual situation unfolded and an unknown man stopped by the store.

A barge full of bananas from Central America had broken down, and the bananas were quickly ripening, he told the Holaways. Did they want them for a reduced price?

The Holaways agreed, and the store's front windows were soon loaded with bananas. Business picked up as people couldn't help but notice the store loaded with bananas in the front window. A few years later, the business moved to a larger store on Moulton Street.

Dot, Larry's wife and David's mother, remembers those early days well.

"I never weighed so many bananas in my life," she said, shaking her head. Dot still works at Holaway's Market a couple times each week. All the store employees call her "Mom" more often than Dot.

Along with "Mom," David's brother Danny also works at the store as co-owner. Gerald, David's uncle, still works part time, and is the practical joker of the crowd. He once told a customer who was buying a lot of cat food how she could get her cats to stop eating so much. She eagerly asked how.

"You cut their tails off from the ears back," Gerald said, with a straight face. Unfortunately, she didn't find the joke very funny.

But there are plenty of other jokes among the close-knit group of longtime employees that still bring laughter.

There was, of course, the recurring practical joke involving a stuffed fox often hidden in the walk-in coolers to shock employees. Another time, an employee placed meat department employee Barbara Brown in a shopping cart and rolled her out of the back into the store. Stuck in the cart awkwardly, she laughed and struggled to get out until finally someone helped her.

Along with joking around, employees at Holaway's have watched their children play baseball together, eaten Christmas dinners together at the store, and watched other employees come and go together.

"We are like family and you get attached," said Brown who expressed no interest in retiring from Holaway's after 28 years there. "When one person hurts in our store, everybody hurts."

The heart of the store

When Larry Holaway died in 2001, the whole store mourned the loss of the one they considered to be the heart of the store.

"He literally was Holaway's Market," David said. "He was the mainstay."

It was Larry's creativity that kept Holaway's booming as so many other independents and chains came and went in Decatur, David said.

He made Holaway's meat department legendary in the area. He packaged fresh, oven-ready dinners such as red pepper chicken, meatloaf, beef roast and barbecue ribs. His ideas — which came before ready-to-go meals were established in other grocery stores — as well as his devoted service to customers, made Holaway's meat department famous and still draws people from surrounding cities, David said.

The store even sends meat to Philadelphia and Texas to past shoppers who have moved away and still crave Holaway's specialties.

Many shoppers also come for Holaway's famous meat boxes, in which the store offers a bulk variety of meat cuts together for a reduced price. Meat is cut fresh daily, so employees are often seen rushing in and out the back of the store to cut meat for each customer's specifications.

'That hometown feel'

Connie Breaden of Decatur has been coming to Holaway's since 1977, and loves its meat. If she stops by another grocery store for steaks, she typically regrets it.

"It doesn't taste the same as it does here," she said.

Yvette Rice of Decatur is also a longtime Holaway's shopper. She loves the store's produce and its friendly atmosphere.

"You get the hometown feel, she said. "They all know me here because I come quite often. I like that they hold onto that. There are very few (family-owned grocery stores) left in Decatur."

Once David and Danny can no longer run the store, Holaway's will probably also drop off the map as family-owned, because none of the Holaway children plan to take it over, David said.

"I guess the buck will stop here one day," he said.

He's already received several phone calls from a small grocery store chain interested in buying the store, but he's not ready to sell anytime soon. Roger Pope, head of the meat department for 15 years, gets a fire in his eyes when he talks about the future of the store.

"We're going to stay in this business as long as we can," he said, as he chopped goat meat. "I like working in family operations. You're closer."

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