LOOKING BACK: Welcome to the (Jitney) Jungle

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 10, 2023

By Nancy Bell | Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation

Prior to the opening of the Jitney Jungle on the southwest corner of South and Monroe streets in 1933, grocery stores generally sold only groceries and were “full-service” establishments with clerks to gather the items on a person’s list.

The modern innovations offered at this store by owners Pete Nosser Sr. and Bessie Nosser made it the first grocery store with a one-stop shopping approach. The Jitney was self-service, served hot meals at its lunch counter, and added a pharmacy, cafeteria, cleaners and toy store.

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The slogan for Jitney Jungle stores in 1933 was, “I intend to buy all my groceries from Jitney-Jungle in 1933 — the store where I will ‘Save a nickel on a quarter’ — and at the same time get the best foods.”

Judson McCarty Holman and William Henry Holman and their cousin, William Bonner McCarty, opened a grocery store in Jackson in 1912 and then after World War I opened the first Jitney Jungle store at 423 East Capitol St. in Jackson on April 19, 1919, which they made a cash-and-carry store.

They were sued by the Piggly Wiggly chain for patent infringement having to do with the way that the store operated. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which found in favor of Jitney Jungle. The store chain expanded across the South and by 1992 had over 100 stores. It was a private Forbes 500 company and one of the largest privately held grocery store chains in the United States. It was acquired by Winn-Dixie in 2000.

The Vicksburg Jitney opened on Oct. 7, 1933, with The Vicksburg Evening Post devoting nearly its entire paper on Oct. 6 to the store, its staff and items to be sold.

The Post reported that the “building at South and Monroe streets was made into a modern grocery store, with parking space for a hundred autos. A new (sic) flooring has been installed, a new roof put on, suitable doorways made, a partition installed, and arrangements made for the suitable installation of several new departments. Two coats of paint have been given to the building, wires have been installed and gas connections made. Three Hausmann meat cases or freezing counters have been installed, also a fish case. Vegetables and fruit will be in one of the cases. The meat cases were purchased through Joe Bonelli, of this city. The motors for the Frigidaire equipment were purchased through O’Neill-McNamara Hardware Company, of Vicksburg.  The building is owned by the Lamar Life Insurance Company.”

The Post interviewed H.H. Havis, the contractor for the remodeling, who stated that the building was erected about five years by Havis and that it “is one of the most staunchly built buildings in the city.”

It was originally built for an automobile dealership and storage and therefore had “heavy bowstring trusses to support the roof, with a span of 75 feet,” making it a good building for the open grocery store.

The grand opening was an impressive event with music furnished by the Peacock Night Club Orchestra. Twelve big baskets of assorted groceries were given away as were sandwiches and coffee. “Kiddies” were treated to ice cream. The store featured a meat market, luncheonette and soda fountain.

Pete Nosser immigrated from Syria in 1920 and worked as a stock boy in Joe Boolos’ Openwood store. He planned and saved for 13 years before opening his own store, the first of four Jitney Jungles established by the Nossers in Vicksburg.  The flagship store, known as the “Big Jitney,” benefited from its gregarious owner, Mr. Pete, who knew, greeted and catered to every customer.

He and his family also participated in community affairs, including as a member of the board of Mercy Hospital and as a director of First National Bank for 47 years. The “Big Jitney” burned in 1965 and was rebuilt in 1966 at another location. The Merchants Bank building was eventually constructed here, now the home of Cadence Bank.