09 Aug Victory Drive Shopping Center’s History
As Victory Drive Shopping Plaza welcomes another big business, Chick-Fil-A, to the Victory and Skidaway area, rumor has it that the first off-street parking shopping center in Savannah is catching up to the Abercorn Commercial Corridor. “It began with Home Depot” says Bruce Remler, owner of Victory Drive Shopping Plaza, “and then continued with Target, and soon we will have a Whole Foods.”
With its excellent location, Victory Drive Shopping Plaza not only attracts the Wilmington Islanders headed to and from work, but it is arguably more convenient for people who live in the historic district as well. But Chick-Fil-A’s arrival isn’t Victory Drive’s first or most exciting endeavor.
As an up and rising Commercial Corridor today, Victory Drive Shopping Plaza has a history much more comparable to the glamorous dance halls of the 20s and 30s than the Piggly Wiggly across the street. It began when Bruce Remler’s father, Al, bought the property in 1917. Al Remler’s interests began in the restaurant business, selling watermelon and bbq out of a small roadside, but when he purchased today’s Plaza, this roadside stand flourished into a sophisticated Supper Club, also known as Al Remler’s Club Royale.
Club Royale made its grand opening in 1939, five years after Bruce was born. “I was pretty young when the club opened,” Remler recalls, “But I remember the neon lights flashing at the front of the club, resembling something like a waterfall. It was a real nice place.”
Bruce says “there weren’t too many places like Club Royale in Savannah, aside from Johnny Harris’ restaurant. After the death of Mr. Johnny Harris, Red Donaldson’s family took over, and his son and son-in-law own it now. I’m actually going to go eat there today.”
But today’s prices definitely can’t beat that of Club Royale’s. Turkey Sandwiches were 90 cents back then, and a steak dinner for $1.50. Other menu items included shrimp cocktail, club sandwich, and porkchops with baked apples all between the prices of 30 to 90 cents. Those prices won’t be found on Chick-Fil-A’s menu or anywhere else nowadays.
Aside from the “fit for a queen” extensive, and well priced, menu, Club Royale also had slot machines, as many places in Savannah did at the time. It also had a large ballroom, dining room and a separate bar. The layout of the club was fit for the snazziest of dancers. The booths were circular and a few feet higher than the dance floor, so you could get a closer look at who had two left feet and who didn’t.
This upper scale Supper Club was open to the public and Al proved to be an easy man to talk to and was extremely generous. He often hosted charity events for the St. Mary’s orphanage, especially around Christmas time. Bruce remembers his father and mother bringing the St. Mary’s nuns over on a closed Sunday to cook them steaks and whatever they like on the house. And Al’s kindness certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
In this kind thank you letter dating back from 1940, Dr. Melvin Sutker praises Al for his charity work with the orphanage.
Despite the aftermath of the Great Depression, Savannah was a pretty prosperous town back then. The shipyards and ports offered many hardworking jobs for the community. Bruce recalls that the “people of Savannah worked hard building ships during the week and then played hard at Club Royale during the weekend. They had money to spend.” And Al Remler provided the entertainment to do so. Welcoming big orchestras, dancing, congo, and floorshows that would blow your wig, big names like Jimmy Dorsey, Bill Loren, and Ken Roberts’ Orchestra headlined.
The parties were grand and sophisticated, the walls humming with sounds of laughter and champagne glasses clinking. A flyer of Ken Roberts and his Orchestra for Club Royale read: “We are tearing the wallpaper off the walls to make room for the crowds to hear…” The ears of cats and alligators vibrated with swingin’ heaven. Bruce remembers watching the All Women’s Orchestra playing in 1945, mesmerized by the excitement and pretty ladies. Getting an invitation such as this for a rag at the Club Royale must have been the talk of the town.
In 1953, Club Royale said its final goodbye and Al had a new vision in mind: The first shopping center with off-street parking, Remler’s Corner. Another shopping center, Habersham village, was already developed but had no off-street parking. Remler’s Corner was home to Colonial Stores, Lane Rexall drugstore, Ben Franklin Five and Dime, Downing Appliances, Cookie Jar Bakery, Coastal Drycleaners and a Beauty Salon. In 1959, Remler’s Corner received a new title: Victory Drive Shopping Plaza. After the death of Al Remler in 1963, the shopping plaza was under management of Mrs. Al Remler and Bill Sims. Years later, Al Jr. and Bruce took over management. In the mid 1990s, and nowadays, Bruce Remler is the owner. He’s made many changes to the plaza; in 1999 he tore down 14,000 SF of the eastern end to make room for a freestanding drive thru drug store. Today, Bruce is proud to welcome another big addition to the Victory Drive Shopping Plaza: Chick-Fil-A.
Whereas Chick-Fil-A may not offer the same kind of excitement as swing dancing and 30-cent whiskey drinks, it is important to recognize the astounding history of this important landmark and the family behind the scenes. Mr. Remler and his family have held onto a piece of history for close to 100 years. And as Bruce Remler welcomes yet another change to the plaza, the Savannah community looks forward to what’s next for Victory Drive Shopping Plaza.