How the cherished Woody’s Market grew from produce stand to community treasure

‘We kept adding things, all kinds of things’

Woody’s Market was more than a grocery store.

It was a destination, an essential piece of the community, and a shopping ritual for many.

Woody Bowan, founder of Woody's Market in West Carrollton, photographed in 1971. The store closed in 1999 and Bowman died in 2006. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

For its founder, Woodrow “Woody” Bowman, the market was the pinnacle of a business that began as a humble roadside fruit and vegetable stand in West Carrollton.

Bowman first dipped his toe into the produce business in 1943 when he hauled a load of watermelons to Dayton and sold them. The buyer then paid Bowman to help him sell the fruit.

“I paid 50 cents for them, and he had me selling a whole melon for five bucks and a half melon for three bucks,” said Bowman in 1994. “I thought, heck, I’m in the wrong end of this thing.”

Woody Bowman (right) the founder of Woody's Market in West Carrollton and produce manager Claude Leach photographed in 1971. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Bowman rented a half acre of land on old U.S. 25, the Dixie Highway, and opened his own stand in 1944. He worked from dawn until late at night - sometimes spending the night on the ground using a sack of potatoes for a pillow.

“Before long some of my customers started asking for flour and sugar and other things,” said Bowman. “And I added on, and added on, and soon we had a grocery store going here. Then over the years, always at a customer’s request, we kept adding things – all kinds of things.”

Woody’s was the place you bought Alaskan King crab legs for Lent, kids wheeled up on bicycles for cupcakes topped with butter cream icing and aisles of exotic produce left shoppers in awe.

The Over-the-Road Restaurant, a 100 x100 foot structure build straddling U.S. Route 25 in West Carrollton. The restaurant was an addition to Woody's Market. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

The bakery was run by women wearing gingham dresses and bonnets. People formed lines to weigh themselves on an oversized Toledo scale. And occasionally, a shriek of delight at the checkout line signaled free groceries for a lucky customer because a random red star appeared on the cash register tape.

Bowman told the newspaper his store was the first in the area to offer homemade baked goods, frozen foods and prescription drugs. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and during its hey day employed 500 people.

Diners pack the Over-the-Road Restaurant in 1973. The addition to Woody's Market opened in 1968. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

“Part of the strategy of our success is to try to accommodate the varying needs of the customers by giving them what they want when they need it,” he said.

In 1968, another innovative idea amazed the community. The Over-the-Road Restaurant, a structure built straddling the highway, opened its doors.

A 1968 view through the port hole windows of Woody' Bowman's Over-the Road Restaurant while under construction. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Popular as a community gathering spot as well as for the fried chicken, the restaurant was lined with porthole windows five feet in diameter and painted charcoal black with red stripes.

Inside, a stream, eventually filled with pennies, nickels and dimes, flowed the length of the restaurant and past a 36-foot-long mural commemorating the 1944 produce stand. A wooden paddle wheel kept the water moving between AstroTurf banks.

Diners pack the Over-the-Road Restaurant in 1973. The addition to Woody's Market opened in 1968. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

“I’m always thinking of what the customer would like,” Bowman said in 1971. “I wanted my store the way it is because that is the way I think people want it.”

Progress eventually contributed to the landmark’s demise. Interstate 75 bypassed West Carrollton, and new giant grocery stores later moved in. Woody’s Market closed in 1999, and Bowman died in 2006. The market was razed in 2007, and an ele Cake Co. location is now there.

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