Clarksdale — There was a time when clothing stores outfitted the whole family and were called dry goods stores. That time still exists in Clarksdale in the reincarnation of R.L. Aaron’s Dry Goods, a venerable business that reinvented itself to keep pace with changing times and tastes. However, they kept the old-fashioned service.
R.L. Aaron’s Dry Goods opened in Shelby in 1908 and much later was bought by cousins Will Rooker and Sam Rosenthal. Two and a half years ago, the cousins made the big decision to relocate the store.
“It definitely took courage,” said managing partner Will Rooker. “We took a very large risk by moving something that had been a staple for 90 years and hoping to duplicate it.”
He says they moved because the population of Shelby is small, a highway bypass around town knocked out a lot of traffic and they thought Clarksdale needed a store like theirs. The cousins built a large building on U.S. 61 where there’s lots of traffic.
“We’re on a main highway, and we’re a specialty shop that carries things you find in Memphis and Jackson,” he said. “We have 10,000 square feet, and most independent stores have around 1,800.”
Rooker, whose mother’s family has always been in the clothing business, says he speaks to every person who enters the store, and every person gets personal service from him and the two employees.
“We will help you from the time you walk in the door, or we’ll let you browse if that’s what you want,’ he said. “There are not a lot of places you can go and buy things like we have and deal with the owner. I can make the decisions instead of corporate headquarters.”
The upscale store carries men’s and ladies’ labels and specialty items the owner says aren’t found elsewhere in the Delta. They have some clothing for boys and are adding garments for girls. They have the Blue designer line for children that he says is going great.
A few of the adult brands include Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, James Jeans, BCBG, Le Tigre, To The Max, Lucy Love and Lucky jeans and shirts. There’s a wide range of dress and sport apparel, suits, men’s and women’s shoes and accessories available. There are Justin, Red Wing, Georgia and Rocky boots for men along with Mossy Oak outdoor wear.
Employee George Hughes says the 100% cotton tags so important to the region are in evidence all over the store. They also have many school logo items for Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU.
“It’s a down-home atmosphere with big city merchandise,” said Hughes, who moved back to Clarksdale after living in Austin, Texas. “There is a market here for that, and we have customers of all ages — a wide variety of people come in.”
He too stressed the personal attention given to customers.
“We will work with you to find what you want and get fittings, make alterations and special orders when needed,” he said.
Hughes says the store is adding more sizes and styles for women who don’t want to dress like their daughters.
“You would have to drive at least an hour or an hour and a half to big malls to find the things we have here,” he said. “A lot of clothing stores are closing in the Delta, and it’s really helped to have this beautiful store here.”
Thursdays through Saturdays are busy times, and every day after high school seniors get out of class, starting around 1:30. Rooker says he thinks many of the students just like hanging out in his cool store where there’s comfortable seating and music is always playing. The tasteful interior has a Mediterranean feel with stone finished floors, handcrafted display tables, soft colors and walls finished in hardwood and brick.
“We chose to be here because we believe in the Delta,” he said. “I advertise on cable television, and a lot of customers drive from Little Rock, Jackson, Starkville, Columbus, Oxford, Grenada, Hernando and Helena, Ark.”
There is a Wal-Mart nearby on U.S. 61. but Rooker hopes it will affect Clarksdale positively by bringing more shoppers to town. “That’s the only way it will help small businesses,” he said, “but we offer items they will not have and personal service they don’t have.”
Ron Hudson, executive director of the Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, proudly points to R.L. Aaron’s Dry Goods as an outstanding addition to the city and area’s commerce scene.
“We welcome them to Clarksdale and are really pleased that things are going so well for them here,” he said.
Rooker, who moved his family —wife Patti, five-year-old daughter Willow and three-year-old son Grayson — to Clarksdale last year, says the dry goods store is doing much better in the new location, and the area has been wonderful to them.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.