Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

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carolinatraveler
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Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

Post by carolinatraveler »

In reading any official history of the Winn-Dixie stores, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of emphasis placed on the 1956 purchase of the Ketner-Milner stores in North Carolina. While that purchase certainly placed what became Winn-Dixie into several markets where they had not previously been, the size and importance of the operation seems overstated for what Ketner-Milner actually consisted of. For example, Ketner-Milner was not a well oiled machine, operating stores over a 100+ mile span for many years, but was instead two groups of stores that had agreed to merge less than 60 days before the Winn-Dixie purchase. Other than in just the most basic functions, Salisbury based Ketner’s and Raleigh based Milner’s were still two very distinct operations and would remain so for several years even after the Winn-Dixie purchase.
First off, Ketner’s: Certainly the better known operation of the two, at least from over fifty years of hindsight, Ketner’s traces its origins to 1923, when Bob Ketner purchased Taylors Meat Market on N. Main Street in Salisbury. By 1925 the company was operating as Ketner’s Cash and Carry and was operating a second store in the Dixonville section of Salisbury. In 1928 stores three and four both opened on South Main in Salisbury, an in 1929 another Salisbury location on East Innes. In 1931 the sixth and final store of the initial group opened in Kannapolis, NC. In 1932 one of the Salisbury stores closed, leaving five in operation when Bob Ketner died unexpectedly in February of that year.
With Bob Ketner’s death, the family was forced to sell off the stores to settle the estate. Son Glenn bought the store in Kannapolis from the estate, marking the beginnings of the modern Ketner’s chain. Shortly after purchasing his first store, Glenn bought a second location, also in Kannapolis and in 1933 a third location at 810 North Main, also in Kannapolis. The Ketner name was back on a grocery store in Salisbury by 1936, with the June opening of a location at 128 E. Innes. In 1937 the Main Street Kannapolis store sold, and in 1939 a large new store opened at West Avenue and A Street. The two other Kannapolis locations were closed at that time. Also in 1939 Ketner’s bought an existing location, Community Food Center, in nearby Albemarle, NC. In early 1942 the Salisbury store was relocated just up the block, and the chain finished out the war with three modern stores in three progressive North Carolina towns.
In 1949 a large, modern supermarket was opened in Lexington, NC and later the older Kannapolis store again relocated into a larger and more modern supermarket building. In 1951 a second Salisbury location opened on West Innes Street. In 1953 the company expanded to Mooresville, opening a store there in November. Additional stores were opened in Lexington (October 1954) and Albemarle (December 1954). When merger talks began with the Milner family in 1956, Ketner’s Supermarkets was operating eight modern stores, with two locations each in Salisbury, Lexington and Albemarle, and single locations in Kannapolis and Mooresville, with the oldest location in operation only dating back to 1939. Locals remember Ketner’s as a progressive operation and given to frequent local promotions. These stores would prove to be a great entry for Winn-Dixie in North Carolina
The Milner’s operation was different in many ways. First off, while Ketner’s went to great lengths to promote their name, Milner’s was a Piggly Wiggly franchise and I find no mention of the Milner name on any of their stores or advertising – they were simply Piggly Wiggly stores, like hundreds of others across the country. The chain had its beginnings in 1921 when brothers H. H. Milner and P. C. Milner secured a Piggly Wiggly franchise for the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. From 1921 until at least the late 1940s Piggly Wiggly stores operated by the company were traditional storefront locations in taxpayer blocks in the working class neighborhoods of Raleigh and Durham. In Raleigh, the locations listed were fairly consistent – once they got into a neighborhood, they tended to stay, upgrading within a block as a larger storefront became available. In Durham they seemed to be all over the place, without any consistency. After World War 2 they began consolidating into modern supermarket locations and often were the anchor that led to neighborhood shopping centers. At the time of the purchase there were seven locations in Raleigh – one right downtown, two out towards the NC State campus, one in the Mordecai neighborhood, and the rest in the growing north suburban areas. There were four Durham stores. In Durham the smaller downtown stores had led eventually to a modern facility near Duke University and in a growth area on Roxboro Road. Two of the Durham stores were closed almost immediately after the Winn-Dixie Purchase. Other relatively new stores were found in Cary, Smithfield, Goldsboro, and Dunn, and a store was under construction in Wilson. The company was under the leadership of John Milner, founder P. C. Milner’s son, who had a vision for the future.
Then came the merger. According to “Lion’s Share” (The Food Lion history), both Glen Ketner and John Milner were determined to see their chains grow, and combining the two into one entity would better able them to build towards each other – there was almost 100 miles between the closest Ketner and Milner Piggly Wiggly stores and in that 100 miles you had the growing cities of Greensboro, High Point, Burlington along with numerous prosperous towns. Winston-Salem was just a short distance away, as was Charlotte, two more of North Carolina’s largest cities. In March 1956 the merger between the two chains was announced, followed in May by the announcement that the company that was still struggling to put Winn and Dixie together would buy the Ketner-Milner combination.
Late in the previous year Jacksonville, FL based Winn and Lovett Grocery Company had merged with Greenville, SC based Dixie Home Stores. At the time of the 1956 buyout of Ketner-Milner, details of that merger remained to be settled, as did the adoption of a common name. In a few “new” areas the name Winn-Dixie was beginning to appear, but in traditional trading areas, at least here in North Carolina, most of the stores retained the Dixie Home name. An ad from the Greensboro News and Record from May 1, 1957 lists seven Winn-Dixie stores – Kannapolis, Thomasville, Greensboro (known to have opened as a Dixie Home), Burlington, two in Fayetteville, and the Wilson, NC store that was under construction at the time of the buyout. Listed separately in the same ad are the eight Ketner stores and thirteen Piggly Wiggly stores that were the surviving locations from Milners. It would be as much as a year later before all stores in North and South Carolina would operate under the Winn-Dixie name.
At some point I am planning to combine all of the research I am doing into one article on the growth of the operations in North and South Carolina and Virginia that became Winn-Dixie. This is just one installment in that research, one more piece of the puzzle, and one that I hope clears up some misunderstandings about the reach and duration of the Ketner and Milner operations.

Wayne Henderson
Attachments
From elsewhere on Groceteria.com, a Raleigh Piggly Wiggly converted to Winn-Dixie.
From elsewhere on Groceteria.com, a Raleigh Piggly Wiggly converted to Winn-Dixie.
Milner's Piggly Wiggly, Roxboro Road, Durham, NC, about 1956
Milner's Piggly Wiggly, Roxboro Road, Durham, NC, about 1956
jimbobga
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Re: Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

Post by jimbobga »

Great research on that!! In looking at the pictures, I'm wondering who had the "complete food store" slogan first: Milner's or Winn-Dixie. Both pictures feature that slogan on their pylon. I'm betting on Milner/Piggly Wiggly.
krogerclerk
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Re: Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

Post by krogerclerk »

It appears the importance of Ketner-Milner was overstated due to founding members leaving Winn-Dixie to start Food Town which evolved into Food Lion.

Ketner-Milner and Ballentine Stores had such overlap with Dixie-Home Stores, that the acquisitions also drew the attention of the FTC, which put a 10 year moratorium on Winn-Dixie acquiring supermarkets in the US in 1966. By then, Winn-Dixie was consolidating its banners, and had slowed the pace of acquisition. During the moritorium, WD acquired the City Meat Market in the Bahamas, and when it ended, acquired Kimballs of Fort Worth, TX.

Dixie-Home stores were the genesis of the Greenville, SC division while Ketner-Milner resulted in there being a Raleigh, NC division, which included many former Dixie-Home stores in its territory.

Wasn't Lovett also a Piggly Wiggly operator in addition to Milner?
carolinatraveler
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Re: Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

Post by carolinatraveler »

I would agree that the importance of the Ketner-Milner acquisition probably comes from a historical view, taking the Food Town / Food Lion rise into consideration. I would imagine that today's Winn Dixie management certainly wishes they had done something, anything, to contain Ralph and Brown Ketner and Wilson Smith. That one was a toss up, though, as Food Town struggled for many years and was on the edge of failure in 1968. No one could have predicted the course of events as they happened from the vantage point of 1956, though.

As for overlap, the only town in which Dixie Home was competing with Ketner's was Kannapolis, where their stores were essentially side by side. Evidently the Ketner location was better or larger, as this was the surviving site and the Dixie Home next door was closed just after the merger - relocated actually to a bypass around town. Dixie Home had competed with Ketners in Salisbury in the early 1940s when after Dixie Home bought the Allen Stores and they operated a former Allen site in Salisbury for a couple of years. Other than that, there really was no overlap. Ballentine's was another story altogether, and in retrospect I would guess that if Winn & Lovett had merged with Dixie Home first, there would never have been a Ballentine purchase. When Winn & Lovett purchased Ballentine, however, the Dixie Home merger was not a done deal, so Ballentine's from that perspective was a logical purchase. In towns where they competed, one or the other was usually closed within a year or two. I know in Easley they closed down the former Dixie Home and maintained only the former Ballentine site.

And in answer to your last question, I believe Lovetts did have some Piggly Wiggly stores in their group, for a time at least. Most all of the major chains operated Piggly Wiggly sites at one time, often as their entry into self service. Just saw an advertisement for the Roanoke division of Kroger that notes "and local Piggly Wiggly stores". The ad dated from the 1930s, and surprised me to a point - I didn't realize that Kroger had the Piggly Wiggly stores in Roanoke. This may have been a holdover from the Jameson operation that they had bought to enter the market. Safeway and Colonial had Piggly Wiggly sites, as well.
krogerclerk
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Location: Northwest Georgia

Re: Ketner and Milner Stores in North Carolina

Post by krogerclerk »

Thanks for clarifying that, I had thought Dixie Home had a greater presence in the Charlotte hinterlands than it apparently did have. Unfortunately,the Dixie Home part of Winn-Dixie is irrelevant in its present geographic footprint, surviving only as part of the company's name.

As for Kroger being a Piggly Wiggly operator in Roanoke, that is new info. I knew much of the Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta presence was a result of Kroger buying pieces of Piggly Wiggly, but had assumed Jameson's and natural expansion through West Virginia from the Cincinnati base had led to the formation of a Roanoke division.

I confirmed that some of the Winn & Lovett's in North Florida and South Georgia operated as Piggly Wiggly, while others were Lovett. No use of Winn as a trade name seems to have been used until after the Winn & Lovett merger with Dixie Home and the creation of Winn-Dixie as a corporate name and a store banner. The origins of Kwik Chek still seem to be elusive, was it a corporate banner or an acquired banner? WD's history is evasive, the current website no longer has mention of Kwik Chek, but the older site did mention it in context with the late 50's history and the wording implied an acquisition.

I had known that Ketner-Milner was a small chain, but aside from being the Salisbury forebearer of the modern Food Lion and one of WD's acquisitions, the extent of store geography and operations was unknown.

The Carolinas have been at both the crossroads and the base for some of the South's largest supermarket chains, while being a difficult territory for the national chains, aside from A&P, to make inroads. There has always seemed to been a lot of loyalty for the local store and regionals with strong local ties, which continues to this day.
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