The old Friendly Grill, once a favorite stop for Bleachery workers hungry after their shifts, will soon join the list of departed Rock Hill landmarks.
Crews are set to demolish the vacant building - possibly by the end of the month - to make way for Family Trust's new credit union headquarters on White Street, a key step in the redevelopment of the "Textile Corridor."
While the occasion marks progress for downtown, it's also a chance to remember a different era in Rock Hill.
Employees at the Bleachery, formally known as Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., would stream out of the mill and flock across the street for hamburgers wrapped in wax paper and trays covered in fries.
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Regulars nicknamed the cheeseburger the "Gut-Buster," thanks to its heaping portions of mustard, onions and chili.
"Even on my day off, I'd stop by the Friendly," said David Adams, who worked the night shift at the post office nearby. "We'd go over there at 8 o'clock in the morning and order cheeseburgers.
"If you go to work at 2 (a.m.), that's basically lunch time for you."
Loyd Ardrey frequented the Friendly before he took over Ebenezer Grill, another Rock Hill landmark. Ardrey remembers around-the-clock crowds - and the beverage of choice.
"I don't care what time you went in, there were always people sitting around drinking beer," he said. "It was unusual to see people drinking that early."
Cooks pushed roll carts to the Bleachery to deliver to-go orders of hamburgers and hot dogs, recalls Jimmy Windell, who worked at the Bleachery a few summers as a teenager.
"They'd send a supper order over there at 7 o'clock," he said. "Six days a week."
As the Bleachery declined, the Friendly Grill lost its best source of customers. The grill closed for good in 2004, leaving a vacant building on Laurel Street in the shadow of the hulking mill.
"Once the Bleachery went away, it just became a matter of time," said Lee Gardner, president and CEO of Family Trust. "It went from being the hottest spot in town ... to not a spot at all."
Family Trust has big plans
Now, the property will gain a new use.
Family Trust plans to move administrative services from Dave Lyle Boulevard to its original home on White Street, across from the Bleachery.
The new headquarters will span half a block. Under Gardner's leadership, Family Trust has assembled nearly 2 acres along White Street, including some old mill houses once occupied by Bleachery employees.
Crews will knock down the Friendly building in preparation for site planning, Gardner said. Construction could start by late 2012 or early 2013.
Family Trust will continue to use its Dave Lyle branch.
Fifty years ago, many of the 4,800 employees at Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. lived paycheck to paycheck.
Bankers weren't focused on serving people with low incomes, so workers had to depend on high-interest loans that carried them further into debt.
Credit unions were formed as a way to help.
Most folks started out with personal loans and gradually added loans for cars, home repairs and appliances.
In 1988, the credit union changed its name to Family Trust in hopes of appealing to a broader customer base. The headquarters moved away from the mill.
"People called us the Bleachery credit union," Gardner said. "When we moved out here, part of what I was trying to do was create a new identity."
As Rock Hill pursues new life for the mill corridor, Gardner is excited to return.
The halls will show images from the Bleachery era, a tribute to a part of Rock Hill's past.