Dayton Daily News Library|
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.
DDN PHOTO - JIM WITMER
Losing a Landmark
Woody's closes after 54 years and generations of memories
By Ann Heller DAYTON DAILY NEWS
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.
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
Woody Bowman sits in front of a painting of his fruit and
vegetable stand as it appeared when it opened 1944.
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
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.
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.
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`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
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