By Fred Engle
There has been a men’s clothing store on the corner of Main and Second Street for a long time. Stanifer’s, Chenault’s and Bob’s Men’s Shops are all names from a bygone Richmond.
And then there was Jett and Hall. It closed on Jan. 21, 2013, after decades of contribution to the economic, civic and social fabric of our community.
In recognition of this melancholy event, I asked Mrs. Paul Jett to provide me with a review of this establishment and the Jett family in Richmond. Here is an only slightly edited version of what she has so graciously provided for this column.
“In 1937, Richmond was a small town with most of the retail businesses located on Main Street. The country was still in the Great Depression. People from the county came into town on Saturdays to do banking and shopping.
Diagonal parking on Main Street allowed people to sit in their cars and watch their neighbors walk up and down Main.
Rice & Arnold was the best shoe store in town, keeping all the widths and sizes — to fit narrow or wide feet — in stock.
Paul Jett, a fourth generation merchant, had been looking for a shoe store to buy. He negotiated with the retiring partners at Rice & Arnold to buy their stock and rent Mr. Rice’s building at 214 West Main Street.
The stock consisted of name brand shoes for all the family and men’s accessories. The basement was filled with out-of-style, old shoes which came in the agreement.
After taking inventory, Paul felt he would be able to borrow the money with his father and a note as security. Mr. Rice also offered to sell him the building at a reasonable sum.
Mr. Jett had to think for a while about making such a large investment. He told his wife that they might be in debt for the rest of their lives if he decided to purchase the business and the building. She agreed to sacrifice and save every penny she could, if that is what he felt he should do. So the deal was closed, and he kept one of the long-time employees, Norwood Ballew, who knew both the customers and how to run the business.
Paul had worked in good shoe stores while working his way through college at Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky. He was especially careful fitting the children so they didn’t outgrow the new shoes in a month. He fitted shoes by the arch, length, width and thickness of the feet. In those days, doctors recommended children wear hard-sole, high-top shoes for support as soon as they could walk.
When America entered WWII in 1941 the government picked Madison County to build an ordinance depot, and local employment soared. Steel-toed shoes were required for all workers and the business picked up.
Shoes, along with many other things, were rationed. Shoe ration stamps were required to purchase a new pair of shoes. If the shoe had been in stock for more than two years, it could be sold without a ration stamp. It was very easy to sell the old shoes without a stamp.
Paul Jett had a good credit reputation and could buy new brands as they came out. When the word got out that Paul Jett had Bass Weejun shoes, students from other towns in the region traveled to Richmond to purchase these shoes at Paul’s store.
He purchased a corner men’s clothing store in 1961, and the stores were then incorporated under the name Jett & Hall Inc.
Joe Hall was the manager. His services came with the purchase of the store. Mr. Hall left the business several years later and went to work at some of the more exclusive clothing stores in Lexington.
Paul Jett suffered a heart attack in the early 1960s, and had several managers at the clothing store: Russell Elswick, Jimmy Riddell, Charles Reeves, Amy Jett, David Jett, Dan Plemons and a long-time employee, Allen McCraken. Many part time employees from Madison-Model High School and EKU worked there (including my son, Bruce Engle).
Paul Jett ran a profitable business. When the shopping mall came to the Richmond By-pass in the 1980s, the downtown retail businesses slowed exited from downtown. When J.C. Penney moved, Jett & Hall and three women’s dress shops were among the few clothing stores left downtown.
Paul David Jett, son of Paul and Amy, moved back to Richmond in 1970 to work in Richmond city government. He had served in the Peace Corps for two years and in the U.S. Navy for three years during the Vietnam War. He was a graduate of Denison University and had earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.
After leaving city government, David’s father approached him to work in the shoe part of the business to see if he liked the work. He took the job, and his shoe managers included his wife, Verda Margene (Genie) Hatch Jett, Joyce Chaney, Kathy Clarke, and there were many more part time employees.
In 1975 Amy Jett became manager of the clothing store. She added a small department stocked with women’s wear for the office workers downtown. It was a success, and she enjoyed putting together men’s and ladies outfits that matched well together.
David then purchased the clothing store, and Amy worked for her son until 1988 when she felt her husband needed her to take care of him as he grew older. Paul Jett died at home on June 9, 1990, at the age of 84.
After 67 years downtown, Jett & Hall closed last week on Jan 21. Lifestyles, fashions and styles have changed. People no longer dress up except for weddings, funerals. Often, the no longer dress up for regular worship services.
David always took pride in following his father’s footsteps in selling quality merchandise and contributing his services to his home town. He will miss seeing his customers and employees. At age 73, he feels it is time to slow down. He will now have more time for his grandchildren and his many hobbies.
The entire Jett family would like to express their thanks to our past customers and neighbors for their generations of loyalty through the many years.
These are the evocative memories of a justifiably proud wife and mother at the close of a chapter in Madison’s heritage. Driving down Main Street will never quite be the same.
PUBLICATION NOTE: Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.”
Combined with relevant photographs selected from Eastern’s Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax.
Autographed copies may be purchased at: the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue; Clearsight Optometry; and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street in Richmond.
Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623-1150. These books make excellent birthday presents for family or friends.
Keep in touch with out-of-town family and friends by sharing this gift of home.