'Eating out' in 1960's Blacksburg: Then vs. Now.
Compiled by Craig Little.
During a recent ZOOM, a group of guys from the BHS Class of 1969 reminisced about places to eat in Blacksburg during the 1960’s. We grew up in Blacksburg shared many experiences, and forged bonds lasting to this day. Dating the gals, playing sports, shooting pool at Smotey’s, attending games and functions, pretending we were Tech students, and eating out were our mainstays. The “Boyz” have stayed in close touch over the years. We have met annually since 1985 for a VT home football game, usually in a cabin on Claytor Lake. The Boyz are Craig Little, Richard Howerton, Albert Robinson, Charley Patterson, Bill Smith, Bob Sterrett, Jerry King, and Rick Wall. Here’s what we came up with.
(Comments, additions, corrections are welcome. I also drew information from the Facebook Page entitled, “Blacksburg, Memories of the Way We Were, and thanks to Ann Linden for her comments.)
There were at least 24 places to eat in the 1960’s within the town limits. According to figures from The Town of Blacksburg Director of Finance, as of April 30th, 2020: “We currently have 94 restaurants which includes fast food and pizza delivery. The count does not include convenience stores, specialty establishments, such as coffee or ice cream.”
Our “memory tour” begins at 1813 South Main Street and continues through central Blacksburg and up North Main.
- Golden Gobbler: Ahead of its time, this was a classic place that catered to VT students, professionals, fans, and pre-and post-game VT crowds. The owner brought New York style pizzas and for the first time for many, New York cheesecake. The menu included burgers with swiss, or cheddar or blue cheese mixed into the meat. It included the Gobbler Sandwich, a turkey patty with cranberry sauce. A favorite bar snack was the cheese and onion plate. Steaks, salad, and chops were also on the menu. And lots of beer! Memory: A Sports Illustrated writer ate with fans and wrote a background story on VPI football. This was part of his research on a cover page story in Sports Illustrated about the “Classic of the South”, the VPI and VMI football rivalry.
What’s there now? TNT Property Management, Optician, Tattoo Parlor.
- Dogs and Suds: Fast food, hot dogs and featured root beer and root beer floats. It was near the current Wendy’s at the Ellett road intersection with South Main. The food was OK, but the root beer floats were great and a first for many.
What’s there now? Possibly the Humane Society Second Time Around, 107 Ellett Road.
- Lake View Terrace Motel: The motel had a family restaurant named Hardie’s , that later became a Chinese eatery. Memory: An occasional place where we ate out as a family, not much of a place to take a date.
- What’s there now? It was demolished and became part of First and Main.
- Ray’ Burgers: One of two in the town. It was a fast food hamburger joint, located at the intersection of South Main and Ardmore street. The Tech Drive In was torn down to make space for Ray’s. Memory: Great burgers, great place to go on dates or meet friends.
What’s there now? A vacant lot where there once was an AAMCO.
- Lenny’s Big Boy: A true drive in style restaurant with speakers and waitresses delivering orders on trays that hooked onto the car doors. Memory: Lots of fun, with great burgers and strawberry pie. It was a sure bet to take dates or to meet friends.
What’s there now? Lefty’s Main St. Grill.
- High’s Ice Cream: This was a big event for Blacksburg. High’s was in the Gables Shopping Center. Memory: A popular gathering place for teens and families. Many of us ate flavors of ice cream we never had, or even heard of.
- What’s there now? South Main Kroger.
- Hardee’s: First national chain food restaurant in Blacksburg. Just south of the former Blacksburg Middle High School on Main. The Middle School was formerly Blacksburg High School from which we graduated in 1969. Memory: Smelling Hardee’s hamburgers while sitting in high school class was torture.
What’s there now? A condo and retail complex at 401 South Main.
- Pizza Shop: It was near the corner of Clay St. and Draper Road. It was very small and built in 1967 or 1968. Memory: It was where a lot of ate pizza for the first time.
What’s there now? Probably the Public Library.
Our memory journey continues between the intersection of Main St. and Roanoke St. traveling north to the intersection of Roanoke St. and College Avenue:
West side of Main:
- Roses: It had a soda and lunch counter, shakes, ice cream, and banana splits. Memory: They put slips of paper in balloons with prices for banana splits, from a penny to about 75 cents. You picked a balloon, popped it, and got your price.
What’s there now? The Town Center, including Book Holders and the UPS Store.
- Tech Drugstore: Sodas, shakes, ice cream and sandwiches. Memory: An after-school and weekend meeting place for cutting up and flirting.
What’s there now? We think the Campus Emporium.
- Corner Drug : The same description as the Tech Drugstore. Memory: They had a big selection of Dell Comic books and baseball cards with bubble gum inside the cards’ packages. New comics came out on Saturdays and we would often buy them after the Saturday matinee at the Lyric Theater. We also attached the cards to our bicycle spokes to make a loud noise.
What’s there now? Moe’s
- College Inn: Immensely popular breakfast and lunch restaurant. What’s there now: Joe’s Diner. Memories: Charley Patterson, class of 1969 lived and grew up in Airport Acres growing up and offered the following quote:
“As for College Inn info, as you’ll likely recall, our Airport Acres next door neighbors, Arno and Bulah Bowers along with Edna Smith (Bulah’s Sister living on Fairview) owned and operated it. On most mornings, after finishing my paper route, I’d run by for breakfast. It was a place for downtown merchants and folks in the trades.
It was not uncommon to see Vern Hardin, the Argabrites, Dick Hummel, Lucy’s (Ridinger) Dad Vern, Charlie Boatwright, the pharmacist at Center-last whose last name was Lucas, Kelsey from the Lyric, Orville Kamon & wife, along with French Pack, Dick Cook, etc. I even saw HB, your dad, Craig. (HB was Harland B. Little Jr, the Postmaster for decades; inserted by Craig). And along with the “locals”, there were several VT professors that frequented the place. And one “Tech-town” crossover that was there a good deal of the time, Mayor Barringer. And Tech coaches came by along with Tech administrators like Ray Smoot. Plus, when Tech was out for Christmas break, the basketball team was there 3X a day.
Now given this mix of folks, the College Inn, at times, morphed into a place where problems were discussed, deals were done and plenty of news (along with some gossip) was exchanged.
Arno Bowers was privy to the news before it was the news and some news that never got out. Arno was very circumspect and kept 99% of it to himself so folks didn’t mind speaking freely in front of them. Plus, he might have info, garnered from another conversation that might be useful. He connected the dots so to speak”.
- What’s there now: Joe’s Diner. Joe’s is hugely popular with Townies, college students, and home-game crowds. Joe’s is virtually the same as the College Inn; the breakfast and lunch counter, the walls and the booths and kitchen are practically unchanged.
East side of Main:
- Cottage Inn: A breakfast and lunch counter. Memory: We did not feel particularly welcome as teenagers, but it was closed after lunch, so we seldom went there anyway. It used to be next to the parking area for the Main St Post Office.
What’s there now? A clothing-oriented thrift shop.
- Center Drug: It was near Argabrites men’s’ clothing store (now Sharkey’s). Primarily a prescription style drug store, with a soda/sandwich counter: Memory: Not as popular with us as the Tech and Corner drug stores.
What’s there now? The same building, but empty. It is under consideration for renovation.
College Avenue: West, towards the VT Campus.
- Lyric Shop: Beside the Lyric Theater with a connecting door beside the old ticket booth: Memory: A limited sandwich counter. This is where people bought snacks and sodas for the movies. Memory. Always a crowd around the pinball machine. They also sold tobacco to anyone. Smoking was allowed in the balcony of the Lyric.
What’s there now? The Happy Wok.
- Little Docs: Limited drug store and some ice cream, sodas, shakes. Memory:
One of the few places in town that carried racy magazines.
What’s there now? Souvlakis.
A Diner. A “rail car” style diner that sat near the corner of the old school buildings’ playground. I can’t find the name.
What’s there now: Perhaps Top of The Stairs.
College Avenue East:
- The Blue Ribbon: Greek food, pizza, some American favorites. Memory: One of only two places in town that had an “On and Off” beer license. (The other was Cecil’s Place on North Main). Some younger than 21 learned that some men would hang out in the nearby alley to buy beer for them. The catch was that you had to buy double, i.e., if you wanted a six pack, you gave the buyer enough to buy two six packs, one for him and one for you; then wait in the nearby ally and hope the guy would come back, which they usually did. Later the Blue Ribbon later became known as the Greek’s.
What’s there now? The Cellar.
- The Hokie House: Sports bar and grill. Memory. Across the street was a pool hall nicknamed “Smotey’s. “ This was a gathering place for locals, college students and hustlers. If you were 17 or so they would let you in.
What’s there now? Still the Hokie House.
North Main Street
- The Sportsman: Commonly called “Big O’s. About the only place to get something to eat until about 11PM. Memory: Listening to VT sports on an old radio with lots of fans. Eating the famous (perhaps infamous!) TD burgers after games, dances, and movies at the Lyric. It later became became Mike’ Grill, which is gone, as well.
What’s there now? Under a renovation project that includes including the former Cook’s Clean Center.
- Black Beards: An early upper scale restaurant. Memory: Most teens couldn’t afford it and weren’t really welcomed. Later it became Maxwell’s, but after the 1960’s.
What’s there now? Campus Auto-Motive.
- Pete’s Drive- In: Mom and Pops family place. Memories: A rare treat to go out for a family meal. Eating out as a family was a very special occasion in those times. Richard Howerton recalls, “My recollection of Pete’s Drive-In was that it was the first place in town to offer pizza on the menu before the chains and the pizza place on Draper and Water opened. It was a big deal to my older sister’s crowd. I had my first slice there and marveled at how much better it was than the things Mom tried to make with Kraft or Chef Boyardee.” It was located south of the current MOOG building near Price’s Garage.
- What’s there now? The building remains and holds several small business offices.
- Cecil’s Place: Pretty much an adult beer joint, bar food, burgers. Memory: Allowed teens over 18 inside when the ABC Board lowered the drinking age to 18 for 3.2 beer. We felt like big stuff to go there. What’s there now: It was near Blacksburg Feed and Seed and there was a soft serve ice cream place close-by named Cranwell’s.
What’s there now? Probably the 7-11 at the intersection of Main and Harding Avenue.
- Ray’s Burgers: First of two Ray’s. The second was on South Main as mentioned earlier. It was torn down and became part of the parking lot for Radford Brothers Supermarket, which became a Wade’s Supermarket, and now the YMCA thrift store.
What’s there now? The same parking lot.
Well, this is our memories of Places to Eat in Blacksburg in the 1960’s. Your comments, clarifications, additions, and corrections and encouraged and welcome. It was fun taking this memory journey.
Should you like to submit a work to be featured (blog, poem, video, etc.) we encourage you to do so! Please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.