C. B. Ragland Company was founded in 1919 by Mr. Charles Burton Ragland and was located on Second Avenue South near the Shelby Street Bridge. One year after its beginning, the number of employees comprising the entire company was seven, including Mr. C. B. Ragland himself. By 2001 the company payroll totaled approximately 230 people.

When the great flood of December 1926 and January 1927 paralyzed the business district of lower Broad Street and the surrounding area, C. B. Ragland was under approximately eight feet of water - up to the awning over the warehouse doors, later in the year the company moved into its new building at 300 Second Avenue South, where the operation continued until February 1959. Seeking more modern facilities to facilitate the use of larger distribution trucks, the company moved to Thompson Lane where it operated the wholesale grocery business until October 2002. In 2002, C.B. Ragland sold the grocery business to concentrate on Real Estate, through its wholly owned subsidiary Colonial Realty, and trucking through CBR Transportation.

Before the days of truck deliveries, groceries were shipped by riverboats to towns along the Cumberland River, where retailers would pick up their merchandise. Before the era of packaging, vinegar was bought in wooden barrels, then repackaged into fruit jars to be sold to the stores. Dried beans were bought and sold in 100 pound bags and dispensed by the pound from a bag or barrel in the retail store. Crackers were also bought in bulk and sold likewise.

The only cheese available was packed in round wooden boxes weighing approximately 25 pounds or in oblong wooden boxes weighing about 14 pounds. In the days before adequate refrigeration, the only meat available was cured meat--white salt pork and hog jowls came in by truck loads. Until about 1957 the company carried in stock such items as metal roofing, fencing, barbed wire, binder twine, and wooden kegs of nails.

C. B. Ragland was the first local wholesale grocery to offer frozen food to retail stores and in 1959 was the first wholesale grocery company in Tennessee to install a computer. Also, the company was the first wholesale grocery in the country to have 100% computerized ordering from its customers. In 1959 when C.B. Ragland moved into the new facility on Thompson Lane, the company maintained the Second Avenue location to offer merchandise on a self-service cash and carry basis. The perishable departments -- meat, produce, frozen food, and dairy remained at the location also.

The new warehouse originally covered 137,000 square feet and was designed to hold 300,000 cases of food or six million pounds. It is located on a sixteen acre tract of land that has railroad facilities to accommodate the unloading of boxcars within the warehouse itself. The structure housed only dry groceries at first but as time progressed the refrigerated departments were moved to the new location, which necessitated the additions of the freezers and coolers. The Institutional Department was also added; this division serviced accounts other than grocery stores. This department was discontinued in 1975. Over the years there have been three additions to the warehouse, plus the building of the Retail Service Center. The warehouse presently consist of approximately 250,000 square feet.

Fixturecraft, Inc., was a subsidiary of C. B. Ragland Company and had its origin in 1947, building all types of wooden store fixtures, such as shelves, counters, check-out stands, etc. At this time it was a department of C. B. Ragland known as Store Engineering. It officially became Fixturcraft, Inc. 1955, stocking refrigerated equipment and all types of fixtures that are use commercially. Fixturcraft was sold in 1991 and the building was torn down. The Colonial Coffee Company was also a subsidiary and had its beginning in 1948. Green coffee was purchased, then roasted and packaged. The company was discontinued in 1980 and another company was contracted to continue the roasting and packaging of Colonial Coffee for C. B. Ragland Company.

When the company began selling tires they were stocked within the dry grocery warehouse, but as the demand grew it became a separate department and moved in 1950 to its own quarters at 217 Second Avenue South. The Tire Department was shut down in 1994. At that same time the company’s Colonial Realty Company subsidiary began to refurbish its downtown properties to maximize the value of its real estate portfolio.

In early 1995, Colonial renovated 300 Second Avenue South into The Music City Mix Factory, one of the largest mixed use entertainment facilities in the southeast. Later that year, Colonial began the renovation of 101 Molloy into warehouse and office space for XO Communications (formerly NextLink). Over the next two years, XO expanded into 105 Molloy. MCI also opened an office in the development at 100 Franklin Street. In 1997, Colonial converted the old tire building at 217 Second Avenue South into Have a Nice Day Café.

After the closing of C.B. Ragland’s grocery operations in 2002, Colonial Realty continued to grow and now focuses on both management and redevelopment of company owned properties as well as third party fee management and development. Colonial Realty applies the same philosophies as C.B. Ragland did in the grocery business to its business.

C. B. Ragland Company has always been known for its family atmosphere and closeness between employer and employees. Over the years there have been many members of the same family (as many as four or five) employed with the company at the same time.

In his welcoming address to a group of approximately 1,000 people who visited the new facility at the Grand Opening on March 01, 1959, Mr. Charles Ragland made the following statement, “Our people are still our greatest asset. It is our grand, loyal staff of employees, many of them veterans of more than twenty-five years of service with us, who will make all of it work successfully.” Eighty Four years after the founding of the company, the loyal staff of employees are still endeavoring to make it work!

Mr. C. B. Ragland died in 1937 and upon his death, the eldest son, Charles S. Ragland, assumed the presidency and continued holding that office until April 1961, at which time James B. Ragland, the youngest son, was elected president.

The middle son, Julian P. Ragland, served as a director of the company from 1947 and later as Executive Vice-President and manager of Dry Groceries until 1961 at which time he moved to Arizona.

May 1981, J. Michael Hayes was elevated to the presidency with Mr. Ragland becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Mr. James B. Ragland (Mr. Jimmy) died August 1991. February 1995 J. Michael Hayes became CEO and Arthur C. Best, Jr. was hired as President.

Our mission and goals seem just as clear as they were in 1919. “Take care of your customers and they in turn will take care of you.”

© C.B. Ragland Co. 2003
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