In my small town, businesses come and businesses go but occasionally, some endure and weave their way into the fabric of the community until one can’t imagine how the town would ever get by without them. Around the town square I grew up visiting, a number of these establishments once existed, most of them going back a lot further than I did and they were the places my parents took me when we needed something and where I eventually shopped on my own. Others just off the square completed the picture and together, they formed “Downtown” Jackson.
If you needed a new washer or a dryer, you went to Brown’s Furniture store. If you needed a new bicycle, Western Auto had a variety to choose from. For your prescription needs, Parish Drugs, Jackson Drugs or City Pharmacy could help you out and they didn’t mind coming in at night if need be. For back to school supplies, Beckham’s 5 & 10 could supply you with all the No. 2 pencils you might need and a new toy as well.
When you ran out of money from shopping, you could always go down the street to McIntosh Bank and cash a check and for a couple of dollars you could go around the corner for a haircut from Roy Prosser. The New York Store had the coolest staircase and the best views of downtown Jackson….and when you needed new clothes, shoes or accessories, you went to Deraneys.
Deraneys was and is a Jackson institution but it won’t be much longer. After 84 years of serving God only knows how many generations of Jackson citizens, they are closing their doors this month. For good. I’m not really sure how to process that or how to think about the Jackson square without Deraneys on the northwest corner of it.
Browns is gone. So is Western Auto, Beckham’s, the New York Store, the barber shop and McIntosh Bank. The drug stores are still there, thankfully but Dr. Parish and Big D are gone and Roy D, Dr. Long and Dr. Tom are all retired. Now Deraneys, the last holdout of the downtown department stores, will seemingly join them in the annals of local history.
In my life, much has changed over the years but occasionally there is an oasis where in some ways, time has stood still. Deraneys is such a place. You walk in the door and but for the clothing styles, which have changed many times over the years, you would be hard pressed to know when you were but there was no doubt where you were.
The brown and beige checkerboard floor and the bright overhead lights were always a welcoming sight, highlighting the display cases full of tie bars, cufflinks, wallets, money clips and more. Suits hung neatly in rows along the wall, shirts folded in their cubby holes and floor racks with coats, sweaters and casual wear were spread out all around. A large shoe department offered up a variety of footwear in all the latest styles. The place looked like a department store and even smelled like one should, a curiously satisfying aroma of shoe leather, new cloth and old wood. They carried everything needed to properly attire a man or woman who dressed for success and they had all the customer service to back it up.
That characteristic was a signature trademark of Deraneys, always helpful, always looking after their customers, getting to know them, knowing what they liked and what clothing size they needed. If you wanted a pair of shoes, it wasn’t like shoe stores today where you go hunt through boxes upon boxes of shoes on the rack. You found the ones you liked on display, they measured your foot and they went in the back, got the size for you, brought it out, set the laces and helped you get the shoe on. They would check the fit and make sure you walked around a minute to see if they fit good. Remember when buying shoes was a fun experience?
The Deraneys, D.B. (you have to say it like it rhymes with BB) and Julia, Larry and Yvette were always there, greeting customers with a friendly smile and ready to make you a good deal on something and I mean that. You always got a good deal at Deraneys and you always got the best customer service for free. You never paid what the price said because they always discounted it at the register and gave you the new price, tax included! I can’t remember how many times Larry used to say “Pants, $25.00? How about $21.95, tax included?”
If you needed something off the rack, Larry could always find your size. If you wanted something custom fitted, Julia always had a tape measure handy though I don’t think she really needed it, having a keen eye for her work. Yvette ran the fashionable women’s department in the adjoining store, where my mother would often disappear to and she cultivated a large clientele of loyal followers anxious to see what new things she had found on her latest buying trip. D.B. kept a watchful eye on all and made sure everything ran smoothly and that every customer was being helped. He had such a wonderful sense of humor and his heart was as big as his laugh.
Deraneys even carried a line of men’s hats, a carryover from another era when men didn’t leave the house without one. One cold night about 15 years ago, right before the Jackson Christmas parade, I stopped in Deraneys to say hello and get warm when I spotted a beautiful black fedora the same color as my long wool overcoat. I made some comment about the hat, that I wished men still wore them ….. and Larry talked me into buying it! He said people might not wear them much anymore but a man always looked good in a nice hat and ten minutes later I went out the door with it. Since then, “Mad Men” has put the hat back in people’s mind as a fashionable accessory and I still wear mine with my long coat sometimes if I have to dress up for some event in cold weather…especially around the holidays.
Speaking of the holidays, the Deraneys store window at Christmas has always been a welcome site and one that will be missed after this year. They’ve always done a wonderful job of making the windows look festive for the holidays and of course, it wouldn’t be complete without the life-sized Santa Claus that has had a special place in those windows for as far back as I can remember. I have no idea how old he actually is or if he is the same one that I’ve seen every year but he is always a sure sign that the holiday season has begun and my parents were always sure to take us by there to see him. He probably brought a lot of customers into the store over the years.
Over the many years they have been there, they built a large and appreciative base of customers and not just from Jackson but from other towns as well. Many years after my grandfather, the minister, moved from Jackson to other churches and on into his retirement years, he would still make it a point to shop here when he came to visit and Deraneys was always on his list. I would usually go with him when he made his rounds visiting people he had known during his tenure here. When his car needed tires, he would usually come to visit us so he could buy them at the local tire dealer and inevitably he would stop at Deraneys and pick up a new blazer and a couple of ties. D.B. usually waited on him and they always had an enjoyable conversation while he tried on different coats and matched ties with them.
Nine years ago, Larry passed away after a battle with cancer. D.B. and Julia followed a few years later, leaving Yvette and the staff of the store to carry on the tradition of a family owned downtown landmark with a long history and deep roots in the community. Many of today’s generation, preferring the draw of discount stores or shopping in Atlanta have either forgotten what true customer service is or have likely never actually encountered it. It’s an experience to be waited on and looked after by people who come to know you, who take the trouble to learn your preferences and then who tailor the experience to your particular situation. It takes professionals who take great pride in their work and who can stay abreast of the fickle trends of an ever-changing society. It takes people who care.
Deraneys the department store is indeed an institution as so many have called it but the people of Deraneys, both the family that owned it and the people who worked there made it what is and what it will always be remembered for. You don’t stay around for 84 years without something that sets you apart from the average, run of the mill business. For Deraneys, that magic formula was having what the customer wanted, knowing what the customer needed, making sure the customer felt appreciated and making sure they paid a fair price for it….tax included. They will surely be missed.
It is amazing that Deraney’s hung on so long. Most such stores have been gone for 20 years! You have really been fortunate.
J. M. Brewer said:
Thanks Jim….we really have.
Van Whaler said:
I hope oneday to read your book on your experiences!
J. M. Brewer said:
Thank you Dr. Van… I hope one day to be able to write one!