Fifth Annual Walker Family Appreciation Day continues family tradition
By Charles Moseley
There are not many businesses along the Sistrunk Corridor of Fort Lauderdale which can claim the distinction of being in business for 77 years but that’s just how long Walker’s Grocery has been around, serving customers for four generations.
The Fifth Annual Walker Family Appreciation Day is planned for Saturday, Aug. 8, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., at the store located at 1217 N.W. Sistrunk Blvd. Refreshments will be served free of charge.
Willie Walker and his wife Beatrice began operating Walker’s Grocery in 1938, making it one of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest family-owned businesses. The Walkers had five children, including Willie Alfred and Eardean (now deceased), Ronnie, Tonita and Carolyn.
Times certainly have changed since the days of the “Jim Crow” South. Blacks relied solely on businesses which were in their community. Back then virtually all type of goods and services were right in the heart of the community. Some of those businesses included Provident Hospital, Hankerson’s Hardware, along with Burrow’s Electric and Mizell’s Funeral Home, the latter of which are still in business today.
One of Walker’s Grocery’s customers, who can remember back when the majority of the neighborhood relied on the store for all of their grocery items, is Attorney Raleigh Rawls. He grew up in the neighborhood and began practicing law in the same community, during the 1950’s.
“I remember when I returned from the military Mr. Walker and all of his brothers were involved in building the family business. After the store opened, I used to stop by there because they had the freshest meats in town.”
The Walkers weren’t only known for having the freshest meat in town; they also developed a reputation for their generosity.
Verdelle Thorpe Walker was married to the late Willie Alfred Walker. She recalled that the Walker family always looked out for people, even when they didn’t have money pay for the food that they needed.
“One thing I would like people to know about the Walker family is that they were giving people. I ran into a woman who said the Walkers would allow people to buy groceries when they didn’t have the money. The would simply put their names in the book. They always helped people who needed help.”
She also noted that for the past three years, the family has donated scholarship money to graduating seniors from Dillard High School here in Fort Lauderdale, who plan to attend college to pursue business degrees.
The benevolence that the Walker family has shown to the neighboring community has not gone unrecognized from local elected officials. Former State Representative Perry Thurston bestowed a legislative proclamation on behalf of the Walker’s in 2007, acknowledging the deaths of family matriarch Beatrice Pridgen Walker and son Willie Alfred Walker on July 31, 2007. Part of the state proclamation reads as follows:
“Wherefore, I, Representative Perry Thurston, Jr. do proclaim Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007 to be The Walker Family Day in District 93 of the Florida House of Representatives extending to the Walker Family on behalf of the State of Florida our Deepest Sympathy.”
Ronnie Walker, the second eldest son in the family, grew up working in the family business. He took over the store operation full time when his father passed away in 1995.
He said he remembered when customers would come from all over to shop at the store. Now he says customers usually come from nearby and either walk or ride their bikes to shop there. He said he planned on giving it a go for a few more years, in hopes that someone in the family will take over.
“I’ve stayed here over the years because I guess it’s just in my blood. The thing I enjoy most about coming to work every day is the people I’ve met over the years. We always find something to talk about. I really like having conversations with my customers.”
Walker’s dream of keeping the business in the family might just be realized by the third Walker generation comprised of Ryan, Stephon, and Todd, who currently run a Bar B Q stand on weekends in the store’s parking lot.