Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Felton Williams

Felton Williams, founder of Felton's Market in Plant City, dies at 87

PLANT CITY — Felton Williams started his business in 1955, a roadside vegetable stand on U.S. 92 befitting east Hillsborough County and the country-boy persona of the owner.

Thirty-one years later, the store changed its name and moved closer to the heart of Plant City. Today, Felton's Market takes up a block still rural enough for oak trees on either side, where it commands a loyal following as a supplier of fresh produce, meat packages available for pickup in 24 hours and its own smokehouse.

With a menu offering everything from fresh chicken gizzards to whole smoked hogs and turkeys, Felton's caters to particular local tastes, the Plant City equivalent of a Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg or the Tampa's former Castellano & Pizzo, which closed last week.

In an age of dwindling mom-and-pop businesses, Felton's is still holding its own despite a Walmart, a Publix and two Sweetbay stores all within 3 miles.

Mr. Williams gave everything to it, typically working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. His idea of indulgence was marinating and grilling the perfect steaks. He served them to his family after Sunday services at Eastside Baptist Church

Mr. Williams, who ran a large business on the small-town principles of trust and familiarity, died Thursday. He was 87.

"If you wanted something and he didn't have it, he went and got it," said Plant City Mayor Michael Sparkman. "If something wasn't right that his customers bought from him, he'd make it right."

He greeted customers with a mischievous smile and could pull off pranks with deadpan seriousness. He once kept a friend engaged in conversation, all the while filling up the man's shopping cart.

"He gets to the checkout line and he says, 'Where did this stuff come from?' " recalled Lee Williams, 60, his son.

Customers kept Mr. Williams abreast of their grandchildren's accomplishments or their own health problems. Some quietly asked for a little food for survival, and got it.

"He probably loaned more money on credit he never got back or gave it away than anybody ever heard of," Sparkman said.

Felton Williams was born in Perrine in 1924. He spent most of his life in Plant City, at first working for his father, grocer "Shorty" Williams.

Mr. Williams served in Europe during World War II, where he solidified a relationship with God, his family said. In 1944, he married Lucille Bone, a shopper at Shorty's store. After the war, he worked for the railroad, then opened Felton's Highway Market on U.S. 92 in 1955.

In 1986, he opened Felton's Market at 617 N Maryland Ave. Since then, the store continued to grow.

"He did a lot of advertising, but most of it really and truly was word of mouth and quality," the mayor said. "He was somebody you know, and you could go and get something there that probably you couldn't get anywhere else."

None of the area chain stores, for example, sell freshly smoked turkeys, meat bundles from $45 to $99 or Bad Byron's Butt Rub.

Some seasonal visitors who have returned North rely on the U.S. mail and Felton's for their grits and their fruitcake mix.

Mr. Williams had not been able to visit the store much since 2005, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Lee Williams and his sister, Karen Davis, have run their father's business for years.

Davis also had managed the finances for Eastside Baptist Church since 1946. Even after his death, however, the church continues to list Mr. Williams as its treasurer.

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Felton Williams

Born: Dec. 30, 1924

Died: Dec. 27, 2012

Survivors: Wife, Lucille; daughter, Karen Davis; son, Lee Williams; brother, Leo Williams; sisters, Dorothy Andreu and Geraldine "Dinky" Cribbs; and two grandchildren.

Felton Williams, founder of Felton's Market in Plant City, dies at 87 01/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 11:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Computer coding, guidance counseling, career planning and more

    Blogs

    SESSION STARTERS: State Sen. Jeff Brandes refiles legislation to allow Florida high school students to swap computer coding for foreign language credits.

  2. Rays morning after: Offense showing some life

    Blogs

     

  3. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  4. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  5. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

    Blogs

    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.