Sisters who own businesses downtown had father who was a downtown storekeeper

By ROZELLA HARDIN

STAR Staff

Mary Shepherd (Merry Mary's) and Peggy Meredith, left, of Carter County Motors grew up in downtown Elizabethton and now have their own businesses. Their father, the late J.C. Martin, came to Elizabethton in the early 1930's as manager of the A&P Store. For a number of years he served the Elizabethton store as manager. The family first lived on Hattie Avenue and later of East C Street. They both have fond memories of the downtown. Photo by Dave Boyd

   Mary Shepherd (Merry Mary's) and Peggy Meredith (Carter County Motors), sisters, have been around Elizabethton for a long time. In fact, they grew up here, attended local schools, and now operate a business in the downtown.
   Mary, the eldest of three sisters, who also includes Elsie Isaacs (mother of Phil Isaacs at the Elizabethton Electric System), was three years old when her parents moved to Elizabethton from Bristol. "My father, J.C. Martin, managed the old A&P Store which was located in the building at the corner of Sycamore and Elk. I remember him wearing a big white apron and standing behind the counter, and when people would come in to buy groceries, he would take a large brown paper bag, mark their purchases on it, and then add it up in his head," Mary shared.
   The family lived a block up the street on Hattie Avenue. Later, the A&P opened a supermarket -- the first in town -- on E Street in the building now owned by Nunley's Furniture, and Martin moved there as manager.
   Mary has fond memories of downtown Elizabethton. "When I was growing up in Elizabethton, it was a bustling town. The streets were crowded and there were all kinds of things to do. I distinctly remember the stores downtown staying open late on Saturday night. We would take a bath, put on a clean dress, clean shoes, and mother would put a ribbon in our hair and we would go to town. Often times we never bought a thing, but we went to town every Saturday night," she said.
   The building Mary now leases for her antique shop and luncheonette in years past was Hale's Drugstore. As Mary took a break this week at her store, she reminisced about growing up in Elizabethton. "I remember coming to the drug store here. I sat on a stool right up there. I could buy a cone of ice cream for five cents and a coke for five cents.
   "There was a city bus and it would stop right out there (in front) and for seven cents we could ride to the Franklin Club," she said.
   Mary recalls that on Monday nights, she and her friends would go to the Bonnie Kate. That was the day the movies changed. After the movie they would go down the street to the old Taylor Drug, located below the bank on Elk Avenue. "That was the meet-your-boyfriend drug store," she said.
   Saturday was the day to go to the Ritz, located farther uptown. "We would pay 10 cents to see Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. And we always had to go back the next week because they were usually serials," she recalled.
   Mary and her husband, Frank, and three small children moved from Elizabethton to Alabama, when she was just a young woman. "But, we always came back to visit, even when we lived in Dallas, Tx., and Charlotte, N.C. This was always home, and we usually would come back for every holiday," she said.
   "When I was in Texas, I'd get on a bus and ride for two nights and two days and part of a third day just to come home," she said.
   The Shepherds moved back to Elizabethton in 1990 and opened up the antique shop on Elk Avenue two years ago. Little did she realize when she was sitting in that store as a young girl eating ice cream and drinking coke that one day she would have a business there.
   "Never in ten million years, would I have thought of having a business in this store. You just never know," she said.
   While towns change -- the big towns more so than the small ones -- Mary says the small-town feeling that Elizabethton had when she was growing up is still here today. "I can still walk up and down Elk Avenue and feel much of the same thing that I did when I was a girl -- friendly people, laughter, people having a good time. Those things haven't changed," she said.
   They are the same feelings that are shared by her youngest sister, Peggy, who was born here in the old St. Elizabeth Hospital. "Dr. Caudill Sr. brought me into this world, and I've been a part of the town ever since," she said.
   "I was the youngest, and the only one born here. We were all born in different cities -- Mary in Johnson City, Elsie in Abingdon, and me in Elizabethton. We used to tease my mother because every time she made a major move she had a baby," Peggy shared.
   Peggy, the widow of Lloyd Meredith, has been a part of Carter County Motors almost all of her adult life as her husband had been with the business for over 40 years when he died, and upon his death seven years ago she took the business over.
   Peggy recalls living on Hattie Avenue, H Street, and then the family moved to East C Street. "I remember the five and ten-cent stores uptown. That's where I bought ten-cent toys, and we would buy penny candy at the little store that was located by the railroad track at the corner of Elk and Pine Street," she said.
   "I have just always felt like I was born into the town, and it's been a part of me all my life. There's just a good feeling about being a part of the town, and knowing everybody. It's just a good warm feeling and a feeling that I never want to go away," she said.
   "I know everyone doesn't feel that way about downtown, but I wish they did," Peggy said.
   "It's that feeling," Mary said, "you get when you walk downtown or when I stand inside my store and look out the window as people pass by.
   "When I am out sweeping the sidewalk, almost always someone will pull up to the redlight and either honk their horn at me or holler at me," she said.
   She noted that a few days ago when she was nursing a sprained arm and wearing a sling, a customer and friend called to inquire about her arm because they had seen her wearing the sling as they drove down Elk Avenue past her store. "That only happens in small towns," she said.
   Mary also recalled a few weeks ago when a flash flood hit and left a deluge of water in the downtown, people were rushing out to help one another. "It came within inches of coming in my door and it did get inside some of the stores, but everyone was rushing to help, to protect merchandise and to help with keeping the water out," she said.
   "This is a town where people know one another, they care for one another, and they help one another," she said.
   "When I moved back to Elizabethton, I moved back home. There's no other town like it, and there's no place like home," Mary said. And, to Peggy, there's no feeling like it.