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Change Comes to Kroell’s

The passage of time and the introduction of modern conveniences certainly had their effect on George Kroell’s businesses and his family. It didn’t take long for the arrival of automobiles on the streets of Montevallo to make fundamental changes in the lives of everyday people.

And the growth of modern technology’s most influential labor-saving device gradually made Kroell’s Livery business essentially obsolete. It didn’t help that two of Kroell’s sons, Frank and John, who operated the livery and transport businesses both died in 1912 at the young ages of 44 and 34 respectively.

Not long after he celebrated 48 years in business in Montevallo, Kroell himself passed away in 1925 at the age of 82. He was still active in the operations of his store at the time, but he had brought another son, Pat J. Kroell, into the business a number of years before, and together they continued to thrive as retail merchants.

In the settlement of George Kroell’s estate, the business and building were put up for sale at auction. Pat Kroell was the highest bidder for his father’s mercantile assets, so the business made a natural transition and remained in the possession and operation of his son.

Unfortunately, for reasons we can only speculate about (probably the effects of the Great Depression on retailers), Pat Kroell declared bankruptcy in 1932 and was forced to liquidate all the assets of the business as well as his father’s iconic store building. However, there is an unexplained and intriguing wrinkle to this story. An article in the July 24,1930, edition of the Shelby County Reporter (two years before Kroell’s bankruptcy sale) offering an update on various construction projects underway in Montevallo, contained this interesting snippet: “Pat Kroell’s brick store building on Main Street, next to the Kroell home, is taking on a finished appearance.” This building soon became Montevallo Mercantile, which was owned and operated by Pat Kroell until he sold it in 1936, so his “bankruptcy” must not have been an event that left him destitute or unable to move down the street and start over almost immediately.

The benefactor of the sale of the building that formerly housed George and Pat Kroell’s venerable store was local businessman and entrepreneur, J. A. Brown, Sr. We have met Mr. Brown in an earlier Throwback Thursday installment as the ambitious and forward-looking owner of several businesses on Shelby Street near Shoal Creek and the railroad depot. In addition to already owning and running a grocery and dry goods store, he also operated two ice-making plants, a saw mill, a cotton gin and warehouse, a Gulf petroleum products distribution business, and his pre-1920 steam-powered generator had been responsible for the first electrification of Main Street.

Brown’s Montevallo Grocery Co. opened for business in the old Kroell building in September of 1932. Mr. Brown relocated the business offices of his “enterprises” to his new Main Street property and the building offered him enough square footage to start up a new business devoted to the manufacture of cotton bagging and ties. It cannot be overstated how great was the impact of this one local businessman on the economy of Montevallo in the first half of the 20th century. The jobs he created for area working people during the hard times of the 1930’s should also be recognized and appreciated.

Thank you Clay Nordan, Vice President of Montevallo Historical Society, for this information!

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