Sarah Fay Campbell/The Newnan Times-Herald
Ellis and Greg Crook add liquor stores to their business portfolio. The Crooks Marketplace store on Highway 16 in Senoia will become the city’s first liquor store. Behind them are photos of the family’s history as grocers. On the far right, a young Ellis Crook stands in front of the grocery store and gas station that used to be where Crook’s Hit-N-Run now stands.
For nearly 70 years, the Crook family has been selling groceries in Senoia, and the current store, Crook’s Marketplace, has been a Senoia landmark since 1981.
Soon, the store will no longer sell groceries. Instead, it will become Senoia’s first liquor store.
The city of Senoia has already issued a distilled spirits license for the store, and as soon as the state license is issued, Greg Crook said they will begin stocking the store with a wide selection of alcoholic beverages.
With a grocery store of coolers and freezer cases — which can be converted to refrigeration instead of freezing — Ellis Crook said she plans to have the largest craft beer selection south of Atlanta and a wide selection of chilled wines.
They will keep a freezer for frozen daiquiris and other frozen alcoholic concoctions.
The change was made possible by Senoia voters endorsing lump sum liquor stores in a November referendum, which in turn was made possible by state law changes approved in 2021.
But it was driven by the reality that the opening of the Publix supermarket in July had a significant impact on the small community grocery store.
Ellis Crook, whose father AL Crook opened his first grocery store in 1913, said that within months of opening Publix, Crook’s Marketplace lost about a third of its business.
Greg Crook, who manages day-to-day operations as the company’s president, said while they could have continued to operate – and survive – as a grocery store, the passing of the alcohol referendum has left them given the opportunity to participate in the ground floor of a new market.
People moving to Senoia “are looking for products and departments that we can’t fit into this confined space,” Greg Crook said. Groceries are difficult and a large beverage store will be much more lucrative than a too small grocery store.
“Instead of having a small share of the grocery market, we should have a very large dominant share” of the alcohol market, said Greg Crook.
A Crook’s employee stood outside City Hall as it opened on the first day the city accepted applications from liquor stores, Ellis said.
In the city of Senoia, liquor licenses are approved by the city manager; they don’t come before the city council.
Stores that hold a co-licensing license cannot sell food items of any kind, Ellis Crook said. But some of his favorite foods will be moving just across the street to Crook’s Hit-N-Run Food Mart.
Crook said he would have tomatoes, peanuts and sweet potatoes at the convenience store, as well as watermelons and cantaloupes when in season, and maybe some Vidalia onions too. And Huckaby’s barbecue sauce, which is a customer favorite. In the spring, he also plans to transport garden plants.
Several months ago, the family also renamed their Newnan store, which previously operated as the Food Outlet, with the Crook name. The Senoia store’s Market Manager will join the Newnan store, while most Senoia employees will remain as Crook’s Marketplace employees. Although the merchandise changes, the name will remain the same.
Ellis Crook’s father, AL Crook, opened a store in town in 1913, and later had a store near the railway line in Chestlehurst, he said. His father lost the store after people he extended credit to failed to pay their bills, he said.
After the store closed, AL Crooks operated several different businesses. Then, in 1943, he sold two mules for $500 to buy enough inventory to store a small wooden building at the corner of Highway 16 and Luther Bailey Road, where Synovus Bank now stands, and began operating a successful grocery store. In 1947 another man rented the building under him, Ellis Crook said.
So his father spoke to JB Hutchinson, a gas distributor in town who also owned the corner where the Hit-N-Run now stands. His father bought a 100-by-100-foot lot around the corner, built a cinder block building, and installed two 500-gallon gas tanks there. They started pumping gas and selling groceries and it didn’t take long for their competitor to go bankrupt, Mr Ellis said.
When Ellis Crook was 19, his father caught tuberculosis and couldn’t get out of bed for two years. Ellis ran the store for him until he was drafted in 1952. By then his father was able to sit in a chair and work the store again.
After leaving the army, Ellis went to college at night and in 1960 bought his father’s business. He operated the grocery store there for 20 years and began construction of the new store in 1980.
At 90, Mr. Ellis still works at the store six days a week.
“Times are changing, so let’s go,” he said. “We are always here.”