Carol Ann Ross
All You Need
A long time ago when dinosaurs roamed Topsail Island, there was a Texaco station right across from the IGA Shopping Center. Well, it wasn’t called the IGA back then, but the station was there nonetheless. My daddy owned the Texaco and when I was a kid, I used to sit outside on the old Chrysler car seat propped up in front of the plate glass window and watch the cars as they came on to the island. They’d stop at the traffic light there, and would turn either left or right. Regardless of which way they turned, the occupants of those cars were there for a day at the beach.
Many of those vehicles made a stop at the Red and White Grocery Store and Shopping Center before driving to their prospective getaways. The Red and White, that’s what the IGA was called back then, had the best butcher shop for miles around (still does). Ward Realty had a place in the shopping center too, along with the post office, a barber shop, a laundromat and an ABC store. Heck, once visitors came to the island, there was no need to go anywhere but the Shopping Center, it had everything you needed.
Sixty years later, it still does (a grocery store, gift and clothing store, coffee shop, hair salon and pizza parlor). And it’s all within walking distance from the beach. I don’t care what kind of bridge there is, nobody wants to go off the island once they get here.
Originally called The Superette, construction on the shopping center began in 1954. Al Ward, the first owner, continued the building even after the devastating damage from Hurricane Hazel that hit Topsail October 15th of that same year. In 1967 Archie Christopher bought the shopping center from Ward and built on the present grocery store, having previously been in what is now the gift shop.
I worked a summer for Mr. Christopher, back in the day, and found him to be one of the most congenial people I’ve ever met. In fact, I don’t know anyone who found him unpleasant. I can picture him now, walking slowly around the store, a smile on his face as he welcomed people. I can also remember being a stupid teenager who used to price stamp canned food and mark Tampa Nugget boxes with an X, just for fun. Sorry Mr. Christopher.
After Mr. Christopher’s death in 1985, D.C. Lanier bought the shopping center. However, in 1991 Don Christopher brought it back to the family. That’s the year Jim Williams entered the picture. “I vacationed with my family here for years,” Said Jim, who was a young grad school student at the time. “I was asked to come help out then, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Williams would eventually marry Paige Christopher, who can often be found in the gift shop next door to the IGA. Their three sons have been a big part of the business as well, having all worked in the grocery store.
According to Williams, there have been some ups and downs over the years, the new Surf City bridge offered visitors a challenge as they maneuvered their way to the store, and the opening of Food Lion hurt business for a while. But neither of these have had a lasting effect on the little hometown grocery or the businesses in the shopping center.
Like the family business it is, the IGA shopping center is sort of like the glue that helps hold the long time beach community together. It is a constant in our ever changing world. Locals and visitors who come year after year depend on it. The Williams family is due a big thank you for keeping our shopping center going and like I said, once you are on the island, you don’t want to leave, the shopping center has everything you need.
Jim and Paige (left) | IGA circa 1960s (middle) | Present day IGA (right)