Thursday, November 27, 2008

Smithville Rd in Eastern Hills: City to Suburban Retail

Investigating the evolution of retail on Smithville Road, which, as we saw in the posts below, was a particularly busy street in the early postwar era.

Smithville & Huffman: Streetcar Suburbia's Business Corner

The story starts well before WWII, though. The key intersection is Smithville and Huffman. Between 1895 and 1901 the 5th Stret car line was extended up Huffman to the top of Huffman Hill, looping at Smithville & Huffman. Shortly thereafter, in 1906, the East Park plat was subdivided east of Smithville, as the furthest east suburb of the city at the time.

As East Park and adjacent areas underwent build-out a business corner developed around the trolley loop.

The 1932 Sanborn shows a small collection of buisnesses, including an old style gas station.

The businesses were basic neighborhood services. The criss-cross directory lists two groceries, a hardware store, cleaners and shoe repair, a drug store, and some things we don't see anymore; a malt shop (soda fountain?) and confectionary (candy store?).

By 1955 things change a bit. There was even more buisness buildings (one built in the late 1930s and two built later), but some vacancy too. One also sees some things like bars and a TV sales & service place. There is still a bar and an appliance place here today.

What it looks like. We have a mix of one story commrecial blocks and one story adds to two story houses. This is the northeast corner, directly across the street from the old streetcar loop (off pix to the right), showing as a hardware store on the corner in 1955

Moving down the block, this is now an appliance place, but had a variety of uses, including the "Loop Cafe", referencing the transit connection. There was also a Loop Cocktail Lounge in Dayton View.

Passing by the alley, this was perhaps the first store on the site. The Dairy Bar sounds like it might have been an ice cream parlor or soda fountain. Pretty cool to have had that around!

Across the street is this big four-square with a shop tacked on front. By the style one can tell it's modern, and it was built after the 1950s. But there was an early storefront or business activity at the site; cleaners, shoe repair, barber, etc. It's interesting that these little tack-on stores were happening as late as the later 1950s, without parking.

In 1955 the building there was a branch of Pantorium Cleaners, still in buisness on Salem across from Good Sam. Today this storefront is either a barber or beauty shop .

On the southwest corner (this birdseye looks south on Smithville), across Smithville from the former trolley loop, is a gas station with a sort of zippy 1960s design, but before that there was even more business action.

In 1932 there was one of the many Kroger groceries, plus a few more local business, including the inevtible corner drug store, which in this case was really on the corner, not set back behind a parking lot (Hello South Park?). Note the rear parking associated with early postwar commercial buildings
By 1955 the uses change and we get the "Overlook Bar" (since Huffman Avenue is locally famous for its great views over the city), a different grocery, and a corner drug store still.

The massing in transparent white, since there are no known (to me) images of the block. One can guess that since this was all one story it might have looked like this surviving business block across from the another former streetcar loop, this one Salem at Catalpa. Pedestrian friendly storefronts (despite the roller doors) .

Postwar business block buildouts. These went on the vacant lots on Huffman, visible in the 1932 Sanborn. Typologicially, these structures represent a sort of carryover of prewar ways of building, but in the functionlist modern style.

Perhaps the convivial spirit of the Overlook Bar (at least we can assume it was) carrys on at Roys Place, the former cleaners.

Just two doors down, past the Dayton-style bungalows, on the northeast corner is this relic. What makes this building interesting is that it was one of the very last of its kind. A one story business block built right up to the sidewalk, oriented to the pedestrian, with no parking, dating from between 1932 and 1938.

It was built as a grocery, which must have been sucessfull as the store took over a part of the next door commercial block a bit up the street for storage. After Kroger on Huffman left the store moved kittycorner across and down the street into the former Kroger building.

The Last Corner Store

Since East Park was a fairly old plat, one sees' the carryover of 19th century concepts, like corner store retail. This store was a grocery in 1938 and in 1955. Not sure when it closed. It was one block to the east on Huffman from the trolley loop. It's the "last" because we a nearly at the end of the pre-Depression/WWII city, just a few blocks from the start of suburbia, where there are no corner stores (in this walkable form).

Overlook Homes: The First Shopping Center?

North on Smithville a few blocks, past the 3rd Street/Airway Rd intersection, is Overlook Homes, the big wartime emergency housing project that was converted into mutual ownership. Associated with overlook is this structure, which I had always thought was some sort of school or daycare center.

It turns out this was a very early strip center. As a purpose-built multi-store structure with associated parking it might be the the first of its kind in Dayton, predating Miracle Lane.

One wonders if the "General Store" was an early variety store. A notable feature is the parking. It's there, but the site planning isn't anything like postwar strip centers. The street front is developed as a lawn and sidewalks instead.

Not shown is the entry to the A&P, which is at the corner of the building, copying older urban precedents where corner entries are usually emphasised .

But this is a premonition of what was to come after the war.

Apex Supermarket; Postwar Proto-Big Box

Better known as a broadcasting school, this structure is on the southeast corner of Smithville and 3rd/Airway. The intersection had two gas stations and a gravestone company before getting Apex, which was a stand-alone supermarket, not a chain (Apex, the top, probably, for the geographical location at the top of the 3rd Street hill)

Apex also had a bakery, either in store, or in the lower rear. Apex was an early example of a freestanding store at a larger scale than before, with parking. Maybe a proto-big-box of the 1940s?

Yet the Apex building wasn't quite there yet, as it still held to the sidewalk, apparently had windows, and still had the old fashioned corner entry. An evolutionary design, moving to the big box typology, but still clinging to some prewar pedestrian-oriented store design features.

Pinewood Center

Fast forward, way forward 30 years or more to the 1970s. The transition to modern neighborhood retail is complete. The concept at Overlook, the purpose-built multi-tenant retail structure with parking, and Apex, the larger scale supermarket with parking, have been combined, rationalized, and pumped up in scale (and especially in parking)

Pinewood, just south of Huffman and Smithville, is a covnentional strip center, anchored by a Kroger, but with a collection of other stores, too. In fact there are more stores and personal service things here then there ever was at the older shopping areas on Smithville.

But this is 1970s or 80s modern. We are not at state-of-the-art supercenter scale.

Smithville Road: From Streetcar to Car

A quick overview of what we've seen. Smithville is just one street were the shift to automobile suburbia can be traced. North Main and Salem are also good case studies. I think one of the discoveries is not necessarily the change of retail form responding to transportation modes (streetcars and foot traffic to automobile), but the change in scale, moving from the corner store, to smaller grocery, to slightly larger early supermarkets, and then up in scale to todays supercenter.

This scale change has some interesting systemic implications. The little stores at Huffman and Smithville wouldn't be viable in modern retail, even if they are walkable, due to systemic changes in distribution, economies of scale, necessity of volume sales and the size of a trading area required to support modern retail. The systems that used to support small scae retail don't exist anymore. This also forces changes in how people use the city. Even if you wanted to you couldn't really walk to the store in this neighborhood.

Yet it's notable that there still is a barber/beauty shop and tavern at Smithville & Huffman, and that used appliance store. So some relevance yet for these little business districts.


Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for this in-depth local analysis, interesting to see how the retail is expanding. Are the pictures from Google Earth ?

Jefferey said...

Birdseyes are from MSN Virtual Earth.

I might do one more post on this as that is sort of interesting how things scale-up.

Foreverglow said...


Anonymous said...

If memory serves me, the Overlook Pharmacy and Hilltop Bar were two story buildings with apts. on the second floor.
The Overlook was always the stop right after going to Dr. Spitler's office on Huffman. If you got a shot, you got an ice cream while you were waiting for scrips. If not, you got a soda.
Across the street from the now Krogers, a plane headed for the base crashed into two houses in the late 50s.
Thanks for the memories.

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Anonymous said...

The shopping center on North Smithville originally housed the A&P on the left. When A&P went out of business Turpin's Auction went in. Turpin's was there until it burned down- the firewall protected the rest of the building but the Turpin's space was never rebuilt. On the opposite end of the building was Bell's Dry Cleaners. The cleaners went out of business, Warehouse Paint Center moved into the dry cleaner space, then Turpin's moved to the space vacated by Warehouse Paint Center. When Turpin's moved to Keowee Street, Burchen's Foods moved in. Back in 1955 the smaller stores in between the two anchors were a barber shop, a beauty shop and a "Sweet Shop". The Sweet Shop had an ice cream counter and soda fountain as well as selling small quantities of toiletries and novelties. After all three small businesses went out of business there were several temporary kinds of offices in those spaces but nothing lasted long. I believe that the whole building now is vacant and up for sale.

Anonymous said...

The APEX grocery referred to above in the 1960's became an IGA, Chemiel's IGA. In the late 60's/early70's Stan Chemiel hopped to build a larger grocery store on the vacant land to the south of the Overlook Shopping center referenced above. The City of Dayton did not approve the zoning change and so the IGA moved to the Airway Shopping Center. The vacant store was quickly changed to the International School of Broadcasting.