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Woody Bowman walks down an aisle stripped nearly bare by last-minute bargain shoppers. His once-popular Woody's Market in West Carollton closed May 1, 1999.

Losing a Landmark

Woody's closes after 54 years and generations of memories

Published: Saturday, May 1, 1999

A farmer who used to sell his sweet corn to Woody's Supermarket remembers the singing radio commercial, sung to the tune of Turkey in the Straw.
   You can save a lot of money if you take the time to drive
   Down to Woody's Supermarket on U.S. 25.
   It was the mid-1950s and the beginning of the heyday for Woody's, the landmark grocery of the Miami Valley. Route 25, the old Dixie Highway, the two-lane road that everyone used to drive from Detroit to Florida, dumped all those customers at Woody Bowman's front door in West Carrollton.

Woody Bowman sits in front of a painting of his fruit and vegetable stand as it appeared when it opened 1944.
Bowman was a farm boy turned grocer, with a talent for showmanship that showed up in gingham-clad bakery clerks and a restaurant that spanned the highway.
   In the '50s, '60s and '70s Woody's became a destination. "Have you been to Woody's?' was a natural part of any newcomer's introduction to the community.
   A visit to the store was an outing as much as a place to buy groceries. Boys biked to the store on Saturday for cream horns and pastries, and when they were old enough to drive, they still made the trip. Going to Woody's was a ritual.
   They came with their parents to the restaurant Bowman built over the road. It was a chicken-and-noodles, liver-and-onions-kind of family restaurant that Bowman made sure was kid friendly. He had a wooden paddle wheel built to turn the water that fed the stream that flowed between Astroturf banks the whole length of the dining room, remarkable on its own because it was perched over the highway. Kids loved to see all the pennies and dimes and nickels - all that money - that people tossed in the stream. They wanted to come back, and, it follows, so did their parents.
   `On the fried chicken days, when we had it as a special, they couldn't get off the elevator the lines were that long,' Bowman remembers.
   The over-the-road restaurant also became the gathering place for lingering coffee customers, an unofficial senior citizen center. Politicians, firefighters, citizens measured their standing in the community by their positions - and hours - on the stools.
   Downstairs, customers and kids came to weigh themselves on the big Toledo scale just inside the door. The scale was a community measure, rather like a well-marked doorway where the growth of each child is recorded in pencil each year. People actually lined up to weigh themselves.
   The scale used to have an audible tape. `It would tell you you're too skinny,' Bowman remembers.

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   Marketing is what it was all about. Bowman staged festivals, bringing in shrimp by the carload or farmstead products such as souse and head cheese. He tantalized customers with surprise, holding out the temptation of the red stars, which showed up on the cash register tapes. It was like a roll of the dice. When the red star came up, the customer got his order free.
   `If they had a big order, you could hear them in the next county,' Bowman says about the lucky winners.
   It was all a little corny, but people loved it, just the way they loved the women in the bakery who wore pink- or blue-checked uniforms and bonnets. The second-floor bakery was part of the entertainment.
   Bowman tends to dismiss the attractions of the bakery, added in 1957, as `Johnny-come-lately.' Produce is where he started. Watermelons was the crop he was hauling when he decided to switch from trucking to selling the fruit. The fruit stand he opened on the highway in 1944 eventually became the supermarket, and produce, unusual produce, exotic produce, was a staple at Woody's. Gourmet cooks came here first looking for ingredients Julia Child told them to use.
   This week, though, the produce just looked tired, and at midweek Bowman called his produce supplier. He told him to bring some fresh produce Wednesday. `Not much,' he said. `But enough for some of our good customers.'
   In 1964 meat and seafood sections completed the supermarket, and they became their own draw. Customers could get a pig's ear or ox tails as well as a prime steak.
   Then came the 70s, and, some might say, Woody had gone as far as he could go.
   The store stayed pretty much the same and was still flying high. But eventually the highway moved. Interstate 75 bypassed the town. New superstores, as they call them now, opened a few blocks up the road, and they also had 24-hour service, an in-house bakery, a pharmacy and more.
   Woody's customer base changed and eroded. Bowman trimmed the hours, closing at midnight, then 9 p.m. He discontinued the red star promotion. Then he put the market and restaurant and adjacent Little Farm up for sale, in 1997.
   But there were no takers. The staff shrunk from 500. Just 200 were on the payroll the last week. A 30 percent discount for shoppers stripped most of the shelves early in the week.
   At 9 tonight, give or take a few nostalgic moments, Woody's will close.
   Eighty-six-year-old Woody Bowman, who founded the legendary market 55 years ago, plans to be on hand for dinner in the restaurant. Still sure enough of foot to climb the three flights to the restaurant, he will probably leave without a backward glance.
   `It's been a good ride,' he says.
   As his flashing sign on the market said to the passing world this week, `Thanks for the memories.'

* CONTACT Ann Heller at 225-2402 or by e-mail at