When I first moved to Huntsville this year, I was driving around looking for homes and was especially interested in the Five Points area. And while looking at homes I stopped in at the Star Super Market on Pratt Avenue and fell in love with the place.
Although I ended up not moving to the Five Points neighborhood, I still do my grocery shopping at the Star Super Market, as do apparently a bunch of folks, because the store has been in business at that same location since World War II.
Locally owned, locally operated for nearly 80 years
The strange thing I found when I started asking around about the Star market was that many people did not know the store was still locally owned and operated. Sure, the locals I talked to knew it originated here in Huntsville but the people I spoke with originally about the history of the market all assumed it had been sold to a national chain or an out-of-state investor.
After a little more digging, I found that was not the case.
Star Super Market was started by C.M. “Chick” Russell in 1944, opening at 702 Pratt Avenue, where it still stands and operates today. Chick’s son Wade Russell took over operations after his father, and owned the store until 1999 when it was purchased by Darden Heritage, a pharmacist at Propst Pharmacy across the street, and his wife, Sarah, a pharmaceutical sales representative.
At the time of the sale, residents worried that Heritage would not keep the store open and the neighborhood might lose its gem of a business. But Heritage knew what the Star Super Market meant to the community.
“This is just the jewel of Five Points. When I started talking to Wade, I told him there wouldn’t be a Five Points anymore without the Star market.”Darden Heritage in an AL.com interview
Original store keeps loyal customers amid changes
Heritage expanded the Star Super Market brand through the Huntsville metro after he bought the original store in 1999. Star Super Markets opened in Madison, in a former Winn-Dixie store; in Meridianville, off U.S. 231/431 in a former Lucky’s grocery; and on Bailey Cove Road in south Huntsville.
Today, only the original market in Five Points and the Meridianville location are still operating. And they are still strong amid the ups and downs of the economy.
While at the market this week snapping some photos for this story, I spoke with a few customers about why they shop at the Star Super Market and why they think it has remained in business for as long as it has.
Carol Jackson was one of the customers I spoke with in the parking lot of the store. Jackson said she only lived in the Five Points neighborhood briefly in the 1990s, and now lives in Brownsboro, some 20 minutes away. However, she still shops at the Star market because she likes the local feel of it and she has fond memories of the store.
“I make a special trip here a couple times a month,” Jackson said, adding that she does shop at other stores closer to her home when she needs something right away. “Something about this place. I don’t know, it just feels like home to me.”
Paula Greene is a recent Huntsville resident, like me, and said she was drawn to the store because it is a “good reminder of the way a neighborhood grocery store used to be.”
“You know, there was a time when the local grocery store was the hub of the community. That’s where you saw all your neighbors, that’s where you gathered. This is kind of like that. Or the closest I’ve seen to it in a long time.”Huntsville resident Paula Greene
The ‘Jewel of Five Points’
What makes the Star market so unique, as I see it, is that I come from a city where locally owned grocery stores are a thing of the past. Larger chain stores have taken over the industry and have more resources and therefore can offer lower prices, hence making stores like the Star Super Market almost obsolete.
But there was something about this place I noticed the first time I ever shopped here, and I knew it had good bones, and certainly had a story behind it. But the thing is, they aren’t doing anything fancy or out of the box to maintain their success. They’re just continuing to be a good neighbor.
And that seems to be a recipe for success.