For some reason, I seem to keep bumping up against milestone anniversaries here lately. My current one turns out to be the 30th anniversary of owning my retail store, Anthony Jewelers, in Nashville, TN. I stumbled into the store on June 2nd, 1993, and bought it the next day on June 3rd. It seems like that just happened yesterday. Where oh where does the time go?
Back in 1993, there was no social media, no internet, no mobile phones, and no real affordable overnight delivery services. How in the world did people actually run a business without these real world necessities? When I hit that milestone, I realized I’ve never told the story about my first few months of owning my own store.
When I bought my store, which was founded in 1947, the original owner, Buford Anthony, stayed on for 3-4 months during the transition. If you want to know the truth, I didn’t ask him to, I just couldn’t get rid of him. He just liked to come in and hang out all day and smoke 3 packs of cigarettes – in MY store!
When I bought it, the store was more of a hangout for the neighborhood ‘bored old men’s club’ than a business. If you’ve ever seen that group of elderly gentlemen that gather at the local McDonald’s every morning at 8:30, that’s what I had to deal with every day as well.
Buford had a nasty old recliner in the showroom that had more rips and tears than most of the designer jeans you see people wearing nowadays. Also, there was an ashtray on a stand that sat beside the recliner. The ashtray hadn’t been emptied in months (if ever), and every time he’d stub out a cigarette, 12 butts would fall on the floor. What the hell did I just get myself in to?
After a month or so, I came up with a plan and decided I had to get rid of the recliner. When Buford came in that day, I told him I was sending the recliner home with him at the end of the day, and I’d help him load it into the back of his truck. By the look on his face, you’d think I just told him I ran over his dog. But I wasn’t done yet. I also told him that starting the next day, the store was going to be a smoke-free store. I thought he was going to cry.
Throughout the day, he asked questions about how the business could survive without that nasty recliner sitting in the middle of the showroom. He asked me where people would sit when they came in throughout the day to kill time and shoot the breeze.
He asked me what people were supposed to do that took their daily smoke break at the store? Believe it or not, he was worried about having cigarette butts on the sidewalk in front of the store as opposed to having them on the floor of the showroom. All I could think about was, ‘Get out of MY store!’
At the end of the day, the new era began. We loaded up the recliner, I put the ashtray right beside it, and I’m pretty sure I saw his eyes well up a little bit. I felt pretty good that I had the situation under control. Then, the next day, right on time, Buford showed up with a lit cigarette in his mouth. I stopped him at the door and reminded him we were now smoke-free. I told him he could finish it outside. He reminded me that there wasn’t an ashtray outside. I reminded him that there wasn’t an ashtray inside either. He reluctantly went outside and finished his cigarette.
About 10 minutes later, as he’s sitting on a stool, in my store that used to be his store, he pulls out a cigarette and starts to light it. I reminded him that we were now nonsmoking. About that time, the first member of ‘the club’ came in with a lit cigarette in their mouth ready to take their daily smoke break in the recliner that was no longer there. Egad! You’d think someone died. I told Earl that we were now nonsmoking. Earl seemed confused. Earl had taken all of his daily smoke breaks right here for years. Well guess what Earl, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he doesn’t smoke!
Throughout the day, I discovered I had another problem I needed to solve. I had too many stools for people to sit on. Buford had them for the guys to sit on while they all hung out, smoked, and lied to each other about the made-up conquests and victories they’ve all accomplished. At the end of the day, I threw all but one of them in the dumpster, keeping only the most uncomfortable one. The look of shock on everyone’s face the next day was priceless. They all asked where they were supposed to sit while they hung out in my store for hours on end, and smoked. I suggested one of the 7 restaurants in the neighborhood. They reminded me that they couldn’t smoke in the restaurants. I reminded them that they couldn’t smoke in MY store either.
After a few weeks, Buford started limiting his time at the store. Instead of being there all day, he’d come in late, and leave early. Then he cut it down to 3-4 days a week, 3-4 hours a day. But, because he didn’t have any place comfortable to sit, he’d walk over to the barbershop a few doors down and fall asleep in one of their empty chairs. Glenn the barber was not too happy with me for getting rid of the recliner it seems.
Eventually, Buford found something better to do with his time and only showed up on the day the rent was due. Because he owned most of the property in the neighborhood, everyone left their rent checks at my store. I’d collect the checks, and Buford would come in once or twice a month to pick them up. And eventually, he even accepted the fact that he sold the store to me, I owned it, and I made the rules.
Throughout the last 30 years, I’ve witnessed some of the biggest changes to the business climate in the history of this industry. I miss having a showcase filled with nothing but wax patterns. I miss eating my lunch while reading the local newspaper. I miss eating my lunch while reading Martha Richardson’s column in this newspaper. And I miss the world before smart phones, when people seemed a whole lot smarter.
It’s been an interesting 3 decades. I can’t wait to see what the next 3 have in store.