Minute Market – 1961
By Susan V. Mayer
This small shopping center at 3200 Monroe Road has two things I love about architectural history—a forgotten story and interesting materials!
First, the story with some context: The supermarket became the one-stop-food-shop of the American household after World War II—the farmers market, butcher, and other goods all under one roof, with lower pricing compared to corner neighborhood shops. But as with most trends, the pendulum sometimes swung too far in one direction. By 1960 the demand for smaller stores grew, and the market responded.
Architect’s drawing of a typical Minute Market shopping center, this one on South Boulevard at Inwood Drive. The Monroe Road shopping center, built concurrently, had a zig-zag canopy rather than the undulating one seen here. From the Charlotte News, July 4, 1961.
Supermarket consultant Charles A. Willingham established a chain of these neighborhood grocery stores in 1960. They offered “a small, but complete grocery and vegetable line and packaged meats,” reported the Charlotte News, but “no fresh meats.” Additionally, Minute Markets offered extended hours compared to supermarkets, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. seven days a week.
The first Minute Markets opened in Plaza Midwood and Plaza Hills, and he announced more locations as the anchors of small shopping center developments. One such center opened at 3200 Monroe Road in August 1961. Anchored by the Minute Market, with its trademark breezeblock signage wall and zig-zag canopy, the center soon included Mr. Leroy’s Salon and Dino’s Restaurant, one of Charlotte’s first pizzerias.
This 1971 photo shows the zig-zag canopy of the shopping center at 3200 Monroe Road | From Charlotte Eats.
By 1964 Minute Market had grown to 13 stores. Willingham merged his company with Florida-based Li’l General neighborhood grocers, who had also entered the Charlotte market around the same time. While I wish I could tell you how wildly successful these stores were, over time they faded away. Traditional supermarkets expanded their hours, and the growth of discount department stores like Walmart and Target drew away market share from these smaller grocers with less offerings.
OK, now for the interesting materials! While the zig-zag canopy is gone, one other mid-century detail remains—the breeze block facade wall.
While the decorative perforated concrete masonry units had been introduced in the 1930s, their popularity took off after World War II. Breeze blocks were an easy way to make a building interesting. As you can see here at 3200 Monroe Road, it’s simply a screen in front of the brick wall. The Minute Markets sign would have been attached at the top of this wall.
The material was also used in residential settings, to provide space separation, privacy, and shade to outdoor spaces. Breeze block gradually fell out of favor due to the rising labor costs of masonry installation and a pivot from modernist influence to revivals of historical architectural styles. I’m definitely on the “bring back breeze block” bandwagon!
You can read another one of Susan’s pieces here: Aycoth Family Home – 1966.
Susan V. Mayer is a historic preservation consultant with a passion for all things historical. Through her firm, SVM Historical Consulting, she has conducted research on a variety of historic properties around Charlotte and Mecklenburg County—both for work and for the fun of it. A native of north Louisiana, Susan and her husband have lived in Charlotte for 16 years, and they are raising a pair of Charlotte natives.
Monroe Road Advocates (MoRA) is grassroots group of volunteers from Monroe Road neighborhoods, businesses, nonprofits, and schools. We’re connecting community in the corridor from Lupie’s/7th Street to NC-51.