Black & White Department Store has icon status in downtown Yazoo City

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Published: August 12,2012

Tags: Black & White Department Store, retail, Yazoo City

For 73 years the Black and White Department Store has been a mainstay of the downtown area, providing clothing and other goods to generation after generation. Even after most retail moved out of the downtown, the Black and White Store has continued to attract customers with a wide selection of brand name merchandise at good prices, and the kind of customer service that is rare in today’s world.

“If you can’t find what you are looking for, all you have to do is go to the Black and White Store and they have it,” said Henry Cote, president of the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce. “They have been a major anchor downtown for decades. Gov. Barbour used to buy his clothes there, and probably still does. Mr. Chisholm and his family are pillars of the community, also. They do a lot for the community.”

The store at 236 South Main Street was started in 1939 by Louie Price, and then was taken over by Bernard Fink, who was married to Price’s daughter, Bernice. When Fink passed away in 1980, it was purchased by three long-time employees, Victor Carlson, W.R. Polk and Jimmy Chisholm. Chisholm, 71, who has now worked at the store 52 years, is the sole remaining owner.

“I think we are the oldest retailer in Yazoo City,” Chisholm said. “We used to have three stores in this area with two higher-priced stores on either side of us. We also had stores in a couple other communities. But we have been downsizing.”

When Chisholm came to work at the store during the holiday season in 1961, there were 40 people working on the floor.

“We had four registers going,” he said. “I thought it would always be the way business was. I had no idea it would be like it is now. A lot of businesses left downtown and went out to the highway. We now have six employees and have reduced our operating hours. We used to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but now we are open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. There was no sense being open when there were no customers.”

There used to be a chain of Black and White Department Stores based out of Memphis, and the store in Yazoo City was just one of many. That chain ended up changing its name, and the Black and White Department Store in Yazoo City is believed to be the only one left with that name.

Chisholm said the reason the store has stayed in business is it has always tried to give its customer’s value.

“We set our prices as cheap as we can, and pass bargains along to customers,” he said. “I’ve checked with other major retailers, and we average $4 to $5 below them on some items like men’s pants. That gives people more of an incentive to go downtown and shop in an old building.”

Tradition is another pull. Some of today’s shoppers first came in with their parents or grandparents.

The store also takes customer service seriously. If you ask where something is, you will be taken right to it, not just pointed in a direction and told, “It is back yonder.”

Retails trends have changed considerably through those years. For example, they used to sell a lot of fabric.

“Fabric has just died out,” Chisholm said. “People have jobs and don’t want to take time. Your older souls have passed away.”

Ladies sportswear and uniforms, including school uniforms, are big sellers. The shoe department is also particularly popular carrying well-known brands like Sperry, Florsheim and Rockport.

Although there are a lot of vacant buildings downtown, Chisholm said there have been some good developments. An antique store with a lot of booths is drawing people to the area, and he thinks a newly opened exercise shop will do the same.

Considering how competitive retail is today, some shopkeepers in town could be concerned about a Walmart locating in the area. Chisholm, however, thinks it would be good for the town.

“A long time ago Walmart would have hurt the town, but now it would help because the stores that are still here are going to stay,” he said. “A Walmart would bring in people from outlying towns, and if they had extra time, they would come downtown. Once they go to Jackson, we have lost them. It would bring 125 jobs to town and some of those employees would shop with us downtown like we used to see with Kmart employees.”

Chisholm is thinking about retiring, and is not sure what the future will bring for the store. Most of his employees are near his age, so he doesn’t think he could sell it to them like he bought it from the previous owner. But he would like to see the store continue.

“The town needs a store like this,” he said. “It has proved it for 73 years.”

More on Black and White Department Store

Name of Business: Black and White Department Store

Date Founded: 1939

Owner: Jimmy Chisholm

Address: 236 South Main Street, Yazoo City

Coolest thing about business: “Oldest retail store in town still a major downtown anchor”

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