Photo: Customers visit the iconic downtown Gadsden Variety & Deli located at 422 Broad Street as the business sits for sale until its doors close on July 3. (Katie Bohannon/Messenger)
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
After seven successful and rewarding years, an iconic downtown business is facing a different chapter in its story.
Though Gadsden Variety & Deli on 422 Broad Street will close on July 3, owners Sandy and Mike Self hope that this is not the end of the beloved local store, but rather a new beginning that will keep the heart of downtown beating on.
The Selfs opened Gadsden Variety on the First Friday in October 2013 and were welcomed with pure excitement from the town. Though closing the store is nothing the Selfs planned, due to health issues that both Sandy and Mike experienced over the past few years, they decided to retire and put the store up for sale. Already, the couple has received great interest from potential buyers.
“My husband and I pray about it every day,” said Sandy Self. “We’re hoping and praying that someone will buy the building who will want to keep it like it is. [The new owner] will want to have the café and the silk flowers and the ferns in the spring. We have some great dealers, and they’re all nervous wondering if they’ll have to go someplace else or is somebody going to buy [the store] and keep it like it is. We hope that they do.”
The building itself first drew the Selfs to downtown. Dating its original business back to 1903, 422 Broad Street served as a home to several five-and-dime stores like McLellan’s and Nelson’s. From hammers to hair nets, to candy by the pound and Christmas toys for children, five-and-dime stores sold almost everything locals might imagine – most items only costing 99 cents.
Self noted that as the first air-conditioned building in downtown Gadsden, farmers visiting the store shivered at the unfamiliar cold. When Sandy and Mike purchased the store, they removed the dated air cooling upstairs and discovered rows of racks downstairs as if the store was a miniature Walmart.
From the moment the Selfs walked on the signature creaky hardwood floors, they knew they wanted to keep the building’s history alive.
“From the get-go, the store was going to be an antique mall,” said Self. “People just like to walk through the store and feel that warmth. They love the squeaky oak floors and the popcorn, making new friendships and the fellowship of all the people playing games in here. Everyone has such memories here.”
Gadsden Variety remained true to its name, offering customers a wide spectrum of items that merged vintage styles with modern touches. Guests could browse popular record collections from the 1960s, 70s or 80s while listening to music from their childhoods and explore the unique furniture pieces displayed throughout the store. If the delicious scent of fresh popcorn did not entice them, visitors were welcome to take a break from shopping at the deli where they would find classic homemade specials such as hamburgers, salads and pimento cheese sandwiches.
While Gadsden Variety provided customers with hidden treasures and retro gems, the store also gave guests a relaxed space to visit with friends. Locals lingered frequently at the store’s wooden tables, chatting over cards or Mahjong. Though the store’s old-fashioned charm rekindled fond moments from the past, its welcoming environment encouraged new memories with each visit.
“I think that people have gained fellowship and sweet memories [from Gadsden Variety],” said Self. “The young people who come in with their dad or granddad have learned a little about history—we’ve carried on some history lessons for them. The funniest thing was when a little girl tried to figure out what a [rotary dial telephone] was. Her grandmother tried to explain to her how it worked, and she dialed 911 so it clicked all the way around. The little girl said ‘Oh my goodness. You would die before I could finish calling for an ambulance!’”
With a catering background and a natural eye for interior decorating, Self expressed her favorite aspect of her position at Gadsden Variety was joining people in their search to find beautiful, unique pieces for their homes. She often began decorating the store for Christmas in September, overjoyed at all the children and families who visited during the holiday season.
“I enjoy helping people the most,” said Self. “A lot of people don’t have an eye for decorating. I can help them put things together and kind of give them a vision when they’re lacking one. I’ve just enjoyed working with the customers and making friends with them.”
From the dealers to the employees to the customers, Gadsden Variety and Deli created a friendship with downtown Gadsden that will leave a lasting impression. Though locals are sad to see Gadsden Variety lose its original owners, the Self’s remain optimistic for the future that this is not goodbye. Regardless of what the upcoming days may bring for the unforgettable store, the memories created on those squeaky wooden floors will survive the test of time.
“To my customers, employees and downtown Gadsden—thank you,” said Self. “We love you and we appreciate that you love us. We don’t want anything to end. My wish is that [the new owners] keep all the employees and dealers, and run the café so people get to carry on their good memories of downtown and Gadsden Variety. It’s just such a great building…it’s such a great store.”