Cross Bros. Grocery began serving the community of Ashland in May 1912, under the ownership of brothers Herbert J. and Walter N. Cross. At that time, a pound of flour cost 15 cents and a quart of milk cost 9 cents. The original frame structure was located along the railroad tracks that went through the center of town. In the early years beef, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken and duck would be prepared for sale on a site near the present Shiloh Church Cemetery on Hanover Avenue.
Cross Bros. was originally mostly a butcher shop, but it grew rapidly and became an important anchor store in the Ashland business district. At one point, in the 1940’s or ’50’s, the commissioner of the revenue told Walter Lee Cross that his store was the largest volume grocery in the Richmond area. It supplied Randolph-Macon and the passenger trains with groceries and meat.(1)
During World War I and II, many of the local townspeople were able to keep a running tab at the store to provide food for their families. It was not uncommon for townspeople to have a charge account at local groceries, which would bill their customers monthly. In addition, Cross’, like others in town, would take daily orders, shop for their customers, and deliver the orders to their customers’ doorstep. Sarah Wright remembered that “Cross’ and whoever had a store in town that delivered, had a horse-drawn cart . . . Seems to me they were covered in canvas.” (2)
Herbert J. Cross had four children: Richard, Walter Lee, Katherine “Sis” and Frances. Over a period of time Richard, Walter Lee and Katherine operated the business started by their father and uncle.
In 1943, Ruth Cross Hawthorne was employed in the family-owned business. Approximately ten years later, Thomas H. Willis came to work at the business following military service in the Korean War. Around that same time Frances Cross began to work alongside her two brothers and sister.
In the early 1950s Cross Bros, was one of the first merchants to become a member of Richfood, now known as Supervalu.
By 1973, Cross Bros, had been enlarged four times. The business served numerous generations of customers and had continued a tradition of excellence. At this time the Cross family decided to sell the business. There was much concern that the store continue to serve the community as it always had. Ruth and William “Bill” Hawthorne and Tom and Catherine Willis were able to purchase the business and to continue to provide service to the people of Ashland.
Many young adults have returned to Cross Bros, over the years remembering the cookies they were given as treats. The tradition continues today as children come in expecting to get a cookie.
Today, Tom’s son David, his daughter Cathy and her husband Charles Waldrop assist in carrying on the legacy of the Cross family. Meat is cut to order while you wait, and service to customers is emphasized above anything else. And don’t forget our WondeRoast chickens. Cross Bros. looks forward to serving the next generation of Ashland customers.
For more images from the Cross Bros. Grocery 100th birthday celebration, visit the Ashland Main Street Association Photo Gallery and click on the image.