- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - As a girl, she’d skip off from the family business on Dauphin Street and dart through crowds, not even aware she was running through a golden age.

“I remember running down to Kress, cutting through Gayfers to get there,” says Deborah Gibson DeGuire.

Much has changed so those days in the 1950s and ‘60s. As Mobile sprawled westward, so did its major retail outlets. Downtown went through a deep decline followed by a long, slow rebound. Through it all, the A&M; Peanut Shop on Dauphin Street has been a fixture, and DeGuire has spent a lifetime watching downtown through its doorway.

“I’ve seen downtown through a lot of years and a lot of changes,” she says. “This is where I grew up. This is where I grew old. I’ve spent my whole life here. I love downtown.”

The shop was established in 1947 at a nearby location on Dauphin Street as part of a chain owned by Planters, and soon moved to the address it has occupied ever since. DeGuire’s father, Alfred Gibson, became manager of the store in 1949.



In 1963, when Planters opted to sell most of its retail outlets, he bought it and renamed it A&M;, for himself and his wife, Mary. After his death, his daughter took over in the early ‘90s. She’s coy about her age, though she concedes it’s north of the half-century mark.

Its continuity and its accessibility - a half-pound of freshly roasted peanuts still costs little more than pocket change - have made it a touchstone for countless visitors. It’s rare to find the place empty; and at a special event such as a recent art walk, it’s not unusual to see people waiting outside on the sidewalk for other customers to depart, so that there’s room for them to enter a narrow space dominated by the warmth and rustle of the ever-spinning roaster.

The smell of freshly roasted peanuts dominates the room and tends to stop passers-by in their tracks. Its promise is primal: You can get comfort food here, it says, in the handiest portion imaginable. And that paper bag of nuts will still be warm when you settle on a bench in Bienville Square or Cathedral Square and the squirrels begin to eye you with keen interest.

The sense of activity in the small space is no illusion: DeGuire says the shop employs three full-time workers and two part-timers.

“You’ll see sometimes four generations of families in the shop at one time,” DeGuire said of the venue’s nostalgic appeal.

Having lived through good times and bad, she can talk about subtleties within the simple golden age-decline-rebound narrative. The shop actually had some good years during downtown’s darkest days, she says, maybe because there was so little competition. And parking wasn’t an issue.

She’s well aware there’s a lingering stigma in some quarters, despite 20 years of gradual improvement. “I have a customer who comes down once a year to buy a Christmas gift. They say it’s the only time they come downtown ‘because it’s so bad down here,’” she says. “I had to tell them, it’s really not so bad. I come down here every day.”

And the ongoing recovery? Even for someone who takes the long view, it’s taking a while.

“They keep telling us to hold on, hold on,” she says. “We’ve heard that before.”

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