A couple years ago I began writing about locals' desire to see a Whole Foods or Central Market open in Oklahoma City, and it wasn't too long after that I first made the acquaintance of Robert Pemberton.
Pemberton was cordial as he inquired as to why residents couldn't appreciate the locally-produced goods and organic groceries already being sold at his family's Crescent Market.
Pemberton believed that local residents weren't giving his grocery a shot at proving it offered much of what could be found at the hip big city markets — just without all the bells and whistles.
My wife and I stopped in and did some shopping. Pemberton was right; he had some of the same items we had previously bought on shopping trips to Whole Foods in Tulsa.
And Crescent Market was truly a historic landmark, dating to the very birth of the city. For a history geek like me, Crescent Market was a virtual field trip.
Settler John Wyatt rolled into the newly opened Indian Territory with enough supplies in his covered wagon to open the store, then known as J.L. Wyatt Grocery. It opened the day of the Land Run — April 22, 1889 — in a tent with a dirt floor.
Wyatt sold to Simmons & Forsberg Grocers in 1895. John Thomas and John Lloyd bought it in 1906 and renamed it The Crescent Grocery.
In 1927, Thomas moved the store to Plaza Court at NW 10 Street and Walker Avenue, where it remained until the 1960s.
The store was a million-dollar-a-year business by the mid-1920s. In 1939, the store had more than 50 employees, and a fleet of 11 delivery trucks.
Art L. Pemberton, bought into the store in 1942 after operating a Muskogee grocery store his father founded in 1900. The store moved to Nichols Hills Plaza in 1948.
By the early 1970s, the delivery service was getting more expensive because of skyrocketing gasoline prices and insurance rates.
In 1971, Pemberton decided to pull the plug on the delivery service, but, ever the businessman, he chose his words carefully in a letter he wrote to customers, promising they would always have exceptional service and charge accounts at Crescent (those accounts were ended this week).
That exceptional service was still on display on my first visit. I was amused to see a grocery that still had carpeted floors, free cookies for younger shoppers, and a butcher counter like the ones I remembered as a kid.
Crescent Market represented everything once taken for granted about grocery stores in an era before profits were reduced to razor-thin margins established by corporate big box stores like Target and Walmart.
There is a very slim chance that Pemberton might reopen his store back downtown — possibly in a location not far from its historic roots. But both Pemberton and various developers admit those chances were far greater a couple years ago, before the onslaught by Whole Foods and Sunflower Market doomed his effort to stay put in Nichols Hills.
For Pemberton, just sharing this story was a traumatic experience that dovetailed with his mother's failing health. Teary-eyed, he finally agreed to sit down with me on Monday.
Time, it seems, is ruthless. The Grateful Bean, where folks singers entertained my family as we enjoyed an old-fashioned ice cream sundae in the old Kaiser's, is just a memory. We said a fond farewell to Taylor's Newsstand, where the magazine and newspaper racks were always far better stocked than its suburban big box competitors. Beloved coffee shops like Uncommon Grounds in Bricktown served their last java to customers in storefronts that are occupied by chocolate shops.
We didn't know what we had until these institutions were gone. The goodbyes to old favorites, sadly, keep coming.