When remembering the good ole’ days of Route 66, do you have memories of your family stopping at Stuckey’s to browse through their pecan log rolls, pralines, and peanut brittle?
In those long ago days of Burma-Shave signs and the static of rock and roll on the AM radio, it seemed that the high pitched roofs of Stuckey’s where simply everywhere. But what happened? Where are they now? While you still see a few of them here and there, its certainly not like it used to be when we were kids.
So……. here’s the story.
Stuckey’s, like Burma-Shave and so many other icons of the past, eventually got lost in the corporate jungle, where small things are not so important as profits. But, it was not always so, and it’s not so again today.
Stuckey’s began in the early thirties when a man named W.S. Stuckey, Sr. began selling pecans. During these times of the great depression, Stuckey was looking for a job in Eastman, Georgia. Though he didn’t find one he was told by a warehouseman that he might think about buying pecans and selling them to the warehouse. In no time, with a $35 loan from his grandmother and an old car converted into a truck, Stuckey began traveling from house to house buying nuts.
Sometimes he would spend all his cash to early in the day so he would wait until the bank closed and start writing checks. He would then sell the pecans that night and deposit the checks the next morning before the checks had cleared.
It was a great idea for the unemployed Stuckey who sold about $4,500 worth of pecans in his first year. By 1933 he was doing well enough that a banker lent him $200 to expand his business. Three years later, the bank had extended his credit line to $20,000 and Stuckey’s pecan sales reached $150,000.
In 1936, Stuckey, along with his wife, Ethyl, decided to take advantage of the winter tourist season by setting up a roadside stand. In addition to selling shelled and unshelled pecans, Ethyl made batches of pecan candy that also sold at the stand. For two years, their sales totaled $2,000 to $3,000. In 1937, they sold the roadside stand and opened their first retail store in Eastman, Georgia. Before long, two more stores were built in Georgia and in 1941, a new one was opened in Hilliard, Florida.
When gas and tire rationing began in World War II, Stuckey was forced to close all his stores except the one in Eastman. However, by this time his pecan treats had become so well known, that the couple were commissioned to produce candy for the military.
In 1948, they started large scale candy production in a warehouse behind the Eastman store. By that time people were traveling again and they began to aggressively set up more stores. By 1953, the number of stores was 29 and a little more than a decade later, in 1964, it had jumped to over 100. It was in this year that Stuckey’s merged with Pet, Inc. with W.S. Stuckey serving as President of Stuckey’s Inc. In 1970 Stuckey officially retired but continued to actively participate in much of the Stuckey’s operation until his death in 1977.
Stuckey’s death very nearly spelled the death of his dream as well, as without his guiding hand the chain began to falter. In 1979 Pet was acquired by IC Industries and a few new stores were built. However, within just a couple of years, IC Industries began to sell the Stuckey’s stores for their real estate value and those that were not sold were closed. Within a matter of months, what had taken W.S. Stuckey a lifetime to build was closed.
Of this, Bill Stuckey, Jr. would later say: “Instead of marketing what worked, Pet wanted to look good on Wall Street and let the company owned stores go to hell in order to keep the bottom line up.” Pet’s retorted, saying that the problem was ” a changing world that included McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Shoney’s, and gas stations that sold food and novelties.”
In 1985, after a year of negotiations, Bill Stuckey, Jr., son of the founder, finally managed to buy back what was left of the company from IC Industries. From its peak of 350 locations, IC Industries had reduced the number to only about 80 stores by the time Bill Stuckey was able to step in.
Today, the stores operate under a new concept called the Stuckey’s Express Stop. Co-branding by putting more than one name under a single room, you now are beginning to see Stuckey’s again, with a Dairy Queen, gas station, or other business.
Having grown again to over 200 franchise stores in 19 states, the secret mix of powdered sugar, white molasses and roasted nuts can now be found again all along the roadside, primarily now in the East U.S..
Signs of the Mother Road (photo gallery)