CLANTON / BIRMINGHAM – Oct. 18, 2016 – When life handed the Gray family lemons, or in this case, storm-battered peaches, a little creative marketing and a can-do attitude turned some “ugly fruit” into the proverbial lemonade – the beginnings of what would soon become Peach Park.
Thanks to a hail storm in the 1980s, the peach-farming family was left with unsellable, yet still delicious peaches. Gene Gray, the late patriarch of the family, decided to cut up those peaches and put them in a fruit bar, while his wife, Frances, cooked delicious pound cakes and ice cream with the peaches. They were so popular; they remained a staple even after the next successful peach crop. People near and far started hearing about the tasty treats at the Clanton fruit stand, and today, Peach Park has become a thriving market, restaurant, convenience store and park – and an iconic landmark and pit stop along Interstate 65.
“Exit 205 is no longer the Clanton exit,” said one Alabama Retailer of the Year judge. “It’s the Peach Park exit. They have put Clanton on the map.” Another judge agreed saying, “If you haven’t stopped at Peach Park, you haven’t lived.”
Turning a fruit stand into a tourist attraction is, in part, what earned the Gray family, owners and operators of Peach Park, the Bronze Alabama Retailer of the Year Award in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million category. The business was one of 13 retail businesses honored today as Retailers of the Year by the Alabama Retail Association, in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business at the Alabama Retail Day luncheon in Birmingham.
“We are very proud of our family owned business and the reputation we have built. As we have grown, our philosophy of customer satisfaction and attention to every detail remains the same,” said Mark Gray, who co-owns and manages the business along with his brother Derek. Their sister, Shannon Gray Hathcock, also is a co-owner and brother-in-law, Allen Hathcock, is a manager. In addition, Mark and Derek’s wives, both named Robin, work at Peach Park, handling the gift shop, social media and/or organizing special events. And Frances, his mother, still makes her famous ice cream.
Janice Hull, the director of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce, who nominated the Grays and Peach Park for the award, said, “Peach Park is known throughout the Southeast for its exceptional product, clean facility and great service. Peach Park is community-minded and has a long mutually beneficial relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, including donating a caboose on their property as the first office space for our chamber.”
“Our family has a tradition of community involvement,” added Mark. “We are so thankful to have had the community’s support all these years, and we look for every opportunity to give back.”
The past year has been a notable one for Peach Park. While the business has expanded four times over its 32-year history, there have been several changes recently – including a newly constructed front counter and display shelves, a growing retail space and an increase in social media efforts and marketing.
The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s winners came from a pool of more than 70 nominees.
“The Gray family is a retailer of the year EVERY year to the Peach Park customers, their 58 employees and the Clanton community,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown. Peach Park joined the Alabama Retail Association in August.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature
and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,100 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.