Looking Back: Shopping center planned

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2019

June 19, 1969

Franklin real estate developer, and optometrist, Dr. Ernest B. Gatten Jr. and two out-of-town associates have announced plans to build a shopping center complex in west Franklin that could ultimately provide 433,000 square feet of space for more than 20 stores and represent an outlay of $5 million.

The largest section of the center would be located on 48 acres of land fronting on Gardner Street across from St. Regis Paper Co. and adjacent to the site of the new community college. Development of the shopping center will be handled in three phases.

The first phase, 156,000 square feet, would be completed in September 1970 and would represent an outlay of approximately $1.5 million. And, it would contain two 5,000-square-foot stores, one 23,000-square-foot store, one 60,000-square-foot store, and one 63,000-square-foot store.

A second phase, 123,000 square feet, is planned for completion in three to five years; and, in five to 10 years, a third phase, covering 154,000 square feet, is projected.

The associated group, in addition to Gatten, includes Richmond contractor Robert M. Dunville, and Newport News real estate developer Joe E. Carpenter. They will maintain ownership and control development of the shopping center complex.

Upon acceptance of the Gatten proposal over several other competing interests, property owners Willie Camp Younts, of Atlanta, and Ruth Camp Campbell, of Franklin, stated that they made their decision based on Gatten’s development plans and architectural drawings. The sale price is just over $200,000.

“No leases have been signed yet but the first phase will Include one national chain food store and two national department stores, and a possible restaurant,” Gatten said. He added, “A 16-acre tract across the street will be used to house local merchants. Possible names for the center include ‘Nottoway’ and’Southampton.'”

Incidentally, Contractor Dunville Is also submitting a bid for construction of the community college, just across the street.

Phillips thwarts robbery

A bizarre scene unfolded on the streets of Franklin Thursday afternoon when an irate clothing store owner by the name of Biily Phillips attempted to apprehend a shoplifter. According to Franklin police, the free-wheeling chain of events began at about 3 o’clock when two women and a man walked into Billy Phillips Ltd. and asked owner Phillips if they could charge some merchandise. As the man produced a credit card for identification, Phillips turned toward one of the women and saw what he thought was a coat hanger protruding from under her dress.

Phillips said he questioned her and she toid him she was pregnant. “I could see the coat hanger sticking out from her dress,” Phillips remembered. “I grabbed it and when she tried to move away her dress tore off and a suit fell to the floor.” The robbers then dashed out into Main Street. The dress-less woman flagged a ride with a passerby while the other two ran into the alley behind Phillips’ store and climbed into their 1969 Ford LTD.

Mrs. Pat Pierce, Phillips’ mother, got in front of the car, trying to stop it, but was bumped out of the way as the driver roared up the alley. But the trip was shot. A car entering the alley from the other end blocked the fleeing auto’s retreat. The suspects then jumped from their car and ran. All three were shortly captured by the Franklin police department.

The ensuing police investigation revealed two suits in the car, which had been stolen from Leggett’s Department Store, and two suits taken from Phillips. Also in the car were two coats and numerous other articles stolen from other store owners – not yet identified.

Apprehended in connection with the incident were Ernest Summerville, of Norfolk, and Mammie Spence and Jean Holly, both of Portsmouth.