OPINION: Loss of Original McAlister’s another fading piece of Oxford’s history

Published 8:00 am Saturday, January 9, 2021

When I first learned of the new McAlister’s that was constructed on West Jackson Avenue, I was thrilled; however, that excitement has faded to disappointment. 

According to a representative for the company, the original McAlister’s location, the one that started it all, will be officially shuttered on Monday and subsequently sold. Admittedly, the old location was smaller and often crowded, but with the business it drummed up, surely keeping two locations in town would have been warranted.  

Each year, it seems, more and more of Oxford’s landmarks are erased. Gone is 208 South Lamar, gone is the infamous Hoka, gone is the Gin, gone is the Kream Kup… those who’ve called Oxford home far longer than I have can fill in the rest.  

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So, I thought it would be prudent to recall some of the history of the building that housed McAlister’s for more than three decades, in the hope that whoever acquires it next won’t wipe the iconic University Avenue building off Oxford’s footprint. 

Originally a gas station, McAlister’s was not founded until 1989. Retired dentist Dr. Don Newcomb (also the founder of Newk’s) purchased the property after it had been converted into a 1950s diner to film the movie “Heart of Dixie.” 

Newcomb originally named the restaurant Chequer’s, but found it to be too similar to the fast-food chain restaurant Checkers. He renamed the store McAlister’s, a name honoring his wife’s parents. 

“Heart of Dixie,” filmed in 1989, starred Ally Sheedy, Virginia Madsen and Phoebe Cates. Oxford and Holly Springs served as the backdrop.  

Prior to its life as a movie set, the building was known as Southland gas station, the remnants of which can still be seen in its two large garage doors. It was condemned by the City of Oxford prior to being retrofitted for “Heart of Dixie.” 

It might have also been in the film “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” while in operation as a service station, but reports are unclear.  

It is uncertain what the fate of the original McAlister’s building will be at this time. However, I think many can agree on what we don’t need: another piece of Oxford’s history wiped off the map.