Over the years, Abilenians have seen some great local businesses come and go. Many who have lived in the Key City for a long time can point out the old buildings and locations, and quickly identify what business used to operate from those spots. Here is our list of places that have closed down, but will always have a fond (some more fond than others) place in our hearts.
Big 5 Sporting Goods
The sporting goods store located on South Danville between 14th and 27th Streets closed in May 2012 to the surprise of loyal customers. Before moving, one of the chain's managers mentioned the possibility of moving back to Abilene in the future, but in a different location. He mentioned that being located on a one-way street was a challenge that the store could not overcome, and that a return to the Key City would require a location that had easier accessibility.
Thompson's Kountry Fried Chicken
That giant "Thompson's Kountry Fried Chicken" bucket hung in the sky in front of the North 1st Street store for nearly 2 decades, but the chicken and barbecue joint closed suddenly in April 2012. Some miss the fried chicken, others the barbecue sandwiches. I miss both, and all the great sides like fried okra, mashed potatoes and their great wedge-cut fries. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Mack Eplen’s Drivateria
Mack's goes back a ways. Square burgers were a highlight of the menu, as well as the delicious deserts. But Abilenians on the other side of 55 no doubt remember the Drivateria at North 1st and Shelton as the cruising spot. Arrow Ford has occupied the building as its "Loan Arranger" location for several years, but kudos to them for maintaining the classic feel, and the integrity of the Mack Elpen's legacy. The inside of the building still takes on the feel of a classic diner, with lots of memorabilia to jar your memory of the days of old.
Before dollar stores, there were five and dimes like TG&Y. Abilene had two of these Oklahoma-based chains. One was at the Westgate Mall (also gone), and one on South 14th. These places were kid magnets, because they were always stocked with the coolest toys. Moms loved these stores because they had pretty much everything else you could imagine needing in a pinch. TG&Y's have been out of business since 2001, but the fond memories live on.
The Upstairs Club
Exclusively a rock club in the 1970's, this was a unique establishment in Abilene. Getting in required a membership and ID, and getting out required careful navigation of the steep, narrow stairs (that were somehow steeper and narrower than when you entered The Upstairs Club). Overall, the club was uncomfortable with it's low ceilings and , but if you were a fan of loud rock music, it was by far the best place in town.
This was Abilene's best kept, and proudest secret. Most anyone would tell you that the small restaurant on the corner of North 13th and Walnut was simply something you'd have to experience to fully appreciate. Some BBQ joints pride themselves on their sauce. Some offer only the best quality brisket, ribs, sausage or chicken. Others will brag that they have the best cornbread. But Harold's had all of that. And with the owner himself always there to joke around with the regulars or even belt out a tune for all to hear, the atmosphere was perfect. No wonder there was always a line out the door.
Until recently, the vacant space between Pam's Pets and Creative Cakes on North 1st Street still had remnants of a restaurant, once among the best, hippest eating establishments in Abilene. During its heyday, Gardski's sported a green store front. Faded red "Steakhouse and Bar" letters still showed over the white painted wood storefront. It has since been cleaned up and there is little evidence of the restaurant that featured a bar in the front, great dining in the back and almost certainly a wait if you wanted to eat there. Gardski's featured a great combination of hip atmosphere (skylight/atrium in the middle of the room) and "must have" menu items that made your wait worth it.
Tony's Pizza Cave / Crystal's Pizza
Originally Tony's Pizza Cave (featuring an actual 'cave' front entrance), this restaurant on South 1st Street later turned into Crystal's Pizza.
Crystal's Pizza boasted great food, but was equally well known for its atmosphere. Some say it was like stepping into a time machine, and walking into an old-time amusement arcade.
It was Zentner's, and then Zentner's Daugher Steakhouse for nearly 60 years when the Hogenda's bought the building on Sayles and S. Danville and began specializing in Mexican food 2007. The restaurant had been closed for an extended period on one other occasion since then, and appears to have shut down for good now. I liked the fact that it was a family restaurant, but still had a bar in the back (and $1 margaritas) that never got in the way of taking the kids out to eat.