Henry Gurley opened his first grocery store in Augusta in 1960 – launching what would become a family empire with dozens of supermarkets spread across two states.
“I wanted to work for myself, to own my own store,” he told a reporter during a 1984 interview with The Augusta Chronicle.
The 90-year-old founder of Gurley’s Supermarkets, who died Tuesday, had lived in North Augusta for 52 years and served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War.
He once said he got into the grocery business “probably by accident” when he became a bag boy in 1938 as a teenager growing up in Forest City, N.C.
After learning the business, he worked for A&P while getting his business degree at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and later worked for Winn-Dixie in Charleston, S.C., after being discharged from the Navy.
After a decade in Charleston, he opened his first store at 843 Gwinnett St. (now Laney-Walker Boulevard) in Augusta.
Other stores soon followed in the South Carolina towns of Graniteville, Beech Island and Warrenville – and in Georgia communities including Harlem, Wrens, Washington and other sites around Augusta.
By 1986, family members were opening the 29th store in a chain that employed 600 to 700 workers.
In a May 1990 interview, Gurley said the secret to competing effectively with the giant chains was simply to offer friendly service and consistent quality.
“We don’t have the delis, the bakeries or the flower shops,” he said. “We’re just a neighborhood grocery store.”
His survivors include five sons and daughters-in-law, two daughters and sons-in-law, 21 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren – and a brother.
The funeral will be at 6 p.m. Friday at the Posey Funeral Chapel, with Chaplain John Bower officiating.