With the ongoing development of Rankin and Madison counties, an increasing number of national retailers continue to enter the metro area. And while the “Wal-Marting of America” and the diffusion of tax revenue both buoy controversy, some Capital City proprietors have weathered.
Four such businesses include Beemon Drugs, Tuxes Too formalwear, Lemuria bookstore and Be-Bop Record Shop. Together, they combine for more than 130 years of operation in Jackson.
Up and running
John Evans opened Lemuria in 1975. “I thought Jackson needed a bookstore that sold the kind of books that I wanted to sell.” According to the store’s Web site, its name is taken from a supposed sunken land that ancient folklore credits with the origin of written language. After a two-year stint in The Quarter and a decade run in Highland Village, Evans moved his stacks of stacks to its current location in Banner Hall. Multiple expansions over the years have included Oz Children’s Books and an adjacent annex used for online transactions, authors’ readings, and frosty brews.
Just right next door on Banner Hall’s second floor is Tuxes Too. Doug Douglas’ mother opened the Bridal Path — currently located on the first floor — in 1969. After Doug graduated college, she offered him some motherly advice. “She encouraged me to start a formalwear business to be able to refer her brides to a quality tuxedo business.” And for 17 years, Doug’s had a firm, yet comfortable, cummerbund on Jackson’s male citizenry.
Along similar lines, Beemon Drugs began as the satellite of another storied Jackson pharmacy. When Maywood Mart Shopping Center first sprang into action in 1956, one of its charter tenants was Beemon Brent Drugs. A score of years and a name-shortening later, current owner Lester Hailey began working above the famous checkerboard carpet. When only four years removed from Ole Miss Pharmacy School, he accepted a partnership in the business. And although Hailey bought out his partner in 2003, he’s still on a first name basis with his customers.
A stroll up Maywood’s covered walkway will land you at one of three area Be-Bop Record Shops co-owned by Drake Elder and Kathy Morrison. “Be-Bop opened to help fill a void in the Jackson music scene,” Elder explains. “There were no full catalog discount record stores or local concert promoters when Be-Bop opened in 1974.” And in the years since, it has filled the Coliseum, Thalia Mara Hall and many Jacksonians’ shelves and floorboards several times over.
In some cases, these establishments are merely a stone’s throw from their coast-to-coast counterparts. So, do they feel the heat? “Sure,” notes Lemuria’s Evans. “I feel like they have everything — or they try to have everything. Our object is to not have everything, but to edit our bookstore [so] it represents the taste of our community.”
Elder seems equally unfazed. “Be-Bop shoppers are true music lovers and repeat customers. The national chains generally cater to the occasional music buyer and focus only on new releases by the major national recording artists.”
But if the others are undaunted, Beemon’s Hailey is fortunate? “I get new customers every day that are tired of having to wait for prescriptions and tired of being treated like a number instead of a person. I also get referrals from some of the big guys. They had rather send one of their customers to me for something they do not have rather than send them to another national chain.”
On the other hand, Tuxes Too’s Douglas does sense the competition. “Yes, but again, we feel our reputation and experience on a local basis gives us an advantage.
Inventory and employees
So, how do these proprietors distinguish themselves without the benefit of corporate resources? Elder suggests its his inventory and employees. “The deep catalog in all categories of music — rock, jazz, blues, gospel, country and classical — combined with the customer service our musically knowledgeable sales staff provides gives us a distinct advantage. We also differentiate by stocking the music of local recording artists.”
Evans appears to be on the same page. “I think that there’s a difference in a clerk and a bookseller. I think a bookseller is someone that takes personal interest in the books they’re selling.” He adds, “I’m not so sure that a clerk in a chain store necessarily has that much influence on the product that they’re selling.”
Hailey concurs that it takes a personal touch. “We get to know our customers — and having the same pharmacists day in day out, they get to know us. They know my name and they do not hesitate to call with questions for advice.”
Knowledge and passion
As for advising those that wish to enter Jackson’s marketplace, the consensus is knowledge and zeal. “It is very important to know your customer base and be able to qualify their needs,” recommends Douglas. “Keeping up with the current trends and products is also vital to future success.”
Elder agrees. “Know your product. Have a passion for selling it. Be prepared to put in the time and the money to get a new business going. Advertise; and be willing to try new approaches if something isn’t working.”
Evans breaks it down concisely. “Believe in your product, believe in your service and work hard.”
And as consumers, what should Jacksonians keep in consideration? Hailey believes in establishing relationships. “Ask questions. Get to know the people you trade with.”
Elder references the big picture. “Support the musicians whose music you enjoy by continuing to buy their compact discs.”
Evans implies that you get what you pay for. “I think it’s easy as a consumer to be manipulated by the value of a lesser price, versus the service that’s offered. I know that if we discounted our books we wouldn’t be able to offer the service we’re trying to offer because we wouldn’t have the caliber or skill of booksellers we’re trying to have in our store.” He adds, “You have to value the selection of inventory.”
And Douglass proposes a civic mind. “It is important to the revitalization of Jackson that consumers continue to support the local business owners that are willing to invest in the future of Jackson.”