By John Schaffner
In the early 1950s, three Womack family homesteads occupied the 10 acres north of Johnson Ferry Road and fronting the east side Roswell Road — land that became the retail center of Sandy Springs and has remained the community’s retail landmark until today.
The Sandy Springs Plaza, a shopping destination that is steeped in history, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 10 with a community “Classic Celebration.”
It wasn’t the first retail shopping center in Sandy Springs when it opened in 1959, but it had several things going for it: location, location, location, and a commanding Roswell Road presence.
“Sandy Springs Plaza is the ‘grande dame’ of Sandy Springs. It’s etched into the memories of thousands
of Atlantans both young and old,” explains Jan Saperstein, managing partner of Sandy Springs Plaza
Associates, LP, which bought the 125,000-square-foot shopping center in 1998. “The history of Sandy Springs and the surrounding communities can be charted through this shopping center. And a big part of its success is due to our retail partners – many of whom have been located here for decades. They are classics in their own right.”
Local real estate company owner Ronald C. “Ron” Womack recalls his grandfather T.E. Womack had his home on the south end of the property where Bell Carpets is today. His aunt Tillie Womack Hindman and her husband had the middle third of the property and his father, Maurice Womack Sr. had his family home on the north end, where the two-story part of the center is today.
It was Ron’s father Maurice who turned the property into a shopping center — he and his sister opening the first phase in late 1959 with an A&P grocery, a Kroger, Jacobs Drug Store, Woolworth’s and more. Included around 1960 was a Buckhead’s Men’s Shop, which is the only original still around, but sporting a new name, Buckhead Uniforms.
The Womacks got the property from The Burdett Realty family, which was one of Sandy Springs’ early settlers and had sort of a working plantation in the community. They were Ron Womack’s great grandparents.
Ron’s grandfather T.E. Womack married Ora Burdett and the 10 acres was given to them for their homestead. Burdett Realty was founded in downtown Atlanta in the late 1800s.
Four sons were brought up in the house of Maurice Womack Sr. on the northern end of the shopping center.
Maurice Sr. died right at age 61 in 1977 and Ron took over the management of the shopping center. He had earned a marketing degree in business administration at college. He came home and worked for Burdett Realty for two years and then bought it out in 1980 and named it Womack Realty Company.
He started with the leasing and management of Sandy Springs Plaza shopping center, renovating and expanding it several times, including adding the two-story section on the northern end.
When Ron’ s father was building the shopping center there were a lot of homes along Roswell Road in the area.
“I remember as a kid of about 6 or 7 — probably about 1956 — standing out front of our driveway, at 6305 Roswell Road, and taking Instamatic pictures of the mule trains passing by on Roswell Road bringing gold from Dahlonega to the State Capitol for the dome,” Womack recalls. “Roswell Road was not like we know it.”
Womack’s father had Womack Electric in Buckhead and then moved it out to the back of the shopping center in about 1966. Womack Electric did the electrical for Northside Hospital. Ron’s two brothers run that business up in Cumming now.
Womack sold the shopping center because it had “gotten too big.” He had 55 stores between Sandy Springs and a shopping center in Vinings. He said he is about ready to retire now that he is 61.
“Sandy Springs Plaza was built on a first?name basis,” he said. “We always knew our tenants by name and, even to this day, remain associates and good friends with these long?time business partners.
“From the very beginning, my father recognized the importance of honest relationships and the value of business partnerships. His approach to business really crafted the foundation of Sandy Springs Plaza and is arguably one of the key reasons for its ongoing success.”
“Although the stores have changed over the past 50 years, Sandy Springs Plaza has remained steadfast
as a retail pillar for the Sandy Springs community and beyond,” said Saperstein. “It remains a place
where locals can walk into many of our stores and be greeted by name. That’s the type of shopping experience I hope continues for another 50 years.”