A Family Tradition
Bell's Food Stores were founded by Fred G. Bell and his three sons - Horace, Ralph and Hubert - and has since been passed down through two generations. G. Hubert Bell succeeded his father in running the business and encouraged his only son, Fred R. Bell to work in the stores. Upon the death of G. Hubert Bell in 1980, Fred R. Bell became the third generation to run the business. The fourth generation of the Bell's is now involved in the running of the company. Russell P. Bell is now the Vice President, Angela Diane Bell is the Corporate Treasurer and Mark T. Bell is the Corporate Director. Ralph J. Costa, Jr., a longtime employee, is the Corporate Secretary and Director of Operations.
Bell's began in 1926 in a small building at the corner of Lumpkin and Washington Street in downtown Athens, Georgia. The business was able to operate and survive through the Depression. To this day, there remains the charge ledger, which documents the customers and their accounts. In 1940, Bell's opened their first conventional food store on Washington Street and Pulaski. This store offered a complete line of groceries, fresh meats and produce.
With the Athens area beginning to grow away from the downtown area, it was now time for a stand-alone grocery store. The Bell's in Five Points on Lumpkin Street opened its doors in 1953 where it operated until 2007. This store was a fixture with both the residential and student communities for over 50 years and is still missed by many who remember the simplicity of the store and its employees.
Bell's opened a store on Prince Avenue at the corner of Talmadge Drive in 1957 where it remained until 1976 when it then moved back closer to downtown on Barber Street. At basically the same time, Bell's took over the Gibson's location on Hawthorne Avenue where the flagship store and corporate offices remain in operation.
In 1963, the East Plaza location opened on Lexington Road providing the east side of town with another grocery option. This store operated until March of 2005, surviving a fire in the shopping center along the way. This site is where Lowe's now operates.
Bell's finally decided to open a store outside of the metro Athens area in 1973 when it opened a store in Crawford, Georgia on Highway 78. This store remained in operation until 2005 when a much larger location was built across from the high school. The design and construction was of a much more modern look and it has served the Oglethorpe County area very well.
During the economic growth of the early eighties, two stores were opened in both Gainesville and Hartwell, which expanded the Bell's footprint and also helped give the company more buying power. The Gainesville store operated from 1980 through 1986 and the Hartwell store was open from 1982 until early 2012.
In 1988, with the Athens suburbs exploding, the company opened a store in Watkinsville at Butler's Crossing. Three years later, the Jefferson store opened, followed by Lincolnton in 1994. These three stores, along with Lexington and Athens, comprise the five operating stores in the Bell’s Food Stores chain.