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FROM DAYS PAST Dockins Grocery — The Neighborhood Grocery demolished during urban renewal

November 6, 2010

For the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum

If you grew up before there was a Sprint Mart or a gas station mini mart on every other corner, then you probably remember the old neighborhood stores. They were usually on a corner or just down the street. It was a favorite spot most kids liked to go. The people there would be ones you and your family had known for years. What a place for a kid because there would be lots of penny candy, ice cream and soda (known as soda pop).
During the 30s, 40s and early 50s these stores were plentiful. They were usually in walking distance of several homes. All the stores would have a drink machine where you would reach your hand in ice-cold water and pull out a bottle, which would be dripping wet. A bottle opener would be located on the drink machine. There would be Grapett, Organett, Orange Crush, Cokes, Pepsi, RC or Nehi Grape, Orange or Strawberry drinks. Kids would find many uses for the bottle tops and return bottles to get cash to buy more.
Some of the retired schoolteachers have told me stories of kids stopping at Dockins, their neighborhood store on their way to or from school
Mathew Dockins Grocery was demolished during the 1970s Urban Renewal Program and became commercial property. It ended a 33-year trade at the small grocery enterprise located on the corner of Gillespie and Spring Streets at 700 Gillespie Street.. The grocery store faced the legendary Blue Goose restaurant where many locals and college students spent many romantic evenings.
A soft-spoken cheerful and outgoing man, Dockins who had seen 71 years come and go said, “I feel very well satisfied at the demolition.” He was ready to retire from the business that won him many friends over the years. Dockins said, “I am happy with the seasons spent serving local residents and wouldn’t change a thing even if I could turn back the clock.
Dockins Grocery opened in 1937. Dr. J. T. Kirk told the grocer, “Only one in 500 can succeed in business and you’re one of them.”
Apparently Dr. Kirk knew what he was talking about, as Mathew Dockins became one of the more respected citizens of the Starkville Community. They were faithful members of Griffin United Methodist Church. I phoned his son, Joe T. Dockins of Tougaloo, MS, to ask for his remembrances of his father’s store. The voice on the other end was that of a soft-spoken cheerful gracious man, just as someone of long ago had described his father.
The business was always run with respect. Dockins said, “In the entire 33-year history, police were never summoned to quell disturbances, cart drunks off to jail or to settle arguments. Before Dockins made his debut in the grocery business, he ran a magazine and shoeshine stand at Mississippi State University, which opened in 1915 at A&M College. And even after his larger business was on its feet, he continued the magazine and shoeshine establishment at the college until 1946.
One goal in life for Matthew Dockins was to be a good citizen of Starkville and all who knew him agree that he was. Prosperity in business enabled Dockins to send four boys to college.
Mr. B. F. Raines (father of John Raines who owned the Blue Goose) owned the grocery and sold it to Mathew Dockins.
Joe T. Dockins, son of Mathew Dockins, Remembers...

I remember sweeping the floors in the store and stealing oranges while my father wasn’t looking as a child. There was a jukebox in the store, and on Saturdays we would sell hamburgers, BBQs, bologna, etc. I shined many shoes as a lad in the shoe shine shop my father had in the YMCA on the campus of A&M College for ten cents. The shine shop and magazine rack were located on the ground floor with the post office and other items were available for sale there also. During those times, the YMCA was the forerunner of the bookstore.
My wife and I have two children - a son, who works at a library on the coast and a daughter, who graduated from Meharry Medical School in Nashville and has her own dentist practice in Jackson.
My father had four sons, Halbert, Mathew, Jimmy and Joe (me), and all went to college and two graduated. The colleges we attended were Alcorn State University, Tuskegee University, and Alabama State University. I was the Extension Associate County Agent in Louisville for 10 years and later went to work for Farmers Home Administration where I retired in 1987. My brother, Halbert was the Director of Admissions at Tougaloo College for 37 years. My brother who went to Tuskegee majored in shoe repair.

Dr. J. Chester McKee – engineer, professor, historian and loyal MSU alumnus remembers...

As a child living on the Mississippi A & M campus in the 1920s, 30s and 40s when your dad bought you a new pair of Sunday shoes from W. W. Scales and Co., what was the first thing to do? You went post haste to Mathew’s shine stand in the basement of the YMCA, located at the junction of the post office and the lower area with the barbershop, game room, and various rooms for religious groups. There for ten cents in short order Mathew would put a shine on those new shoes that you could see your reflection on. You stepped up to one of two seats, placed your feet on the steel shine supports, and then marveled as the way shoe polish went on, was brushed, and above all, the snapping of the shine cloths.
Mathew Dockins operated the only campus shine stand over the years serving thousands of students, faculty, and families. With ROTC inspection and drill each Tuesday at 1:00 pm involving all freshmen, sophomores, and advanced course juniors and seniors, Mathew had a built in business, as did Mr. Evans in Starkville. In addition to the shine stand, Mathew had a nice magazine rack with all the latest magazines including titles such as: Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Life, Popular Mechanics, etc.
It was not just for the shine you looked forward to in going to him. His always-laughing mood was uplifting as he worked. Mathew Dockins’ outlook and work ethic was an inspiration to many a kid growing up in Starkville. He was able to put his own children through college at a time few African American children had that chance. But his inspiration did not stop there; he became a great positive influence to thousands of A&M and Mississippi State College students.

Dr. Fenton Peters, Retired SSD Superintendent, remembers...

One of the first stores my parents took me to was Mr. Mathew Dockins’ store. It was a wood frame structure located on the southeast corner of Gillespie and Spring Streets, diagonally across the street from the Blue Goose, which was operated by Mr. John Raines. That intersection no longer exists because the Urban Renewal project reconfigured Spring Street. That corner would be just east of the Gillespie Street Center and west of the La Galerie shopping area.
As I recall, it was a “combination” place of business, a kind of grocery store, café and confectionery. Beyond that, it was also a place of social gathering where people would meet and “chew the fat.” There was a jukebox in it where one could listen to the latest in Black music for a nickel per record. The juke boxes at that time were equipped to play about 20 to 25 different songs which were recorded on the old 78 rpm easily broken platters. It was located near the front entrance just to the right as you walked into the building.
On the left side of the building were the showcases of tobacco products, candy, etc. The cash register was located next to the showcases. Next to that was the rack, which held the bread, rolls, etc. I believe there were some fruits and vegetables in this area, too. Behind the showcase and rack were shelves, which held the canned foods.
On the right side of the building just past the jukebox were about two booths where people could sit down and eat. In the rear was a kitchen area equipped with a lunch counter where short-order food was prepared. I do not remember how extensive the menu was during the heyday of the business, but I do remember the hamburgers, BBQ, and hot dogs. The first hamburger (outside of my home) I think I ate was from Mr. Dockins’ store and it cost $.05! BBQ sandwiches were a dime. How we grumbled when the price increased to $.10 for hamburgers and $.15 for BBQs. A soda was a nickel and so was a scoop of ice cream. Principally Mr. Dockins, his wife and four sons, manned the store.

Mrs. Rosie Williams, Resident, remembers...

This was a family owned neighborhood store consisting of a grocery and restaurant. I remember the large wood heater before gas became available. There were booths on the right side and a jukebox. Mathew Dockins also collected rent for Dr. Kirk who owned the adjacent houses located on JJarnagin Street known as “Kirk Quarters.” The store helped many of us. I miss the unity that was there in Needmore. Mathew Dockins home still remains and is located on Gillespie Street.

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