The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|45 years in business and still going strong|
Staff Photo by Charles Boothe:
Jewel Hunt (left) and her daughter, Sheila Copenhaver, share more than just a mother-daughter bond. They also have a passion for fashion.
Friday, April 12, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Sheila Copenhaver sat on a couch at J&J Fashions, perusing an old copy of The Franklin News-Post and marveling at the clothing prices the store advertised in 1973, marking its fifth anniversary.
Devon pants for $16; skirts for $10; Mojud panty hose, three pair for $3, plus a pair free.
Those routine low prices for top-notch name brands, and many of the name brands themselves, are long gone.
But J&J Fashions has stayed, weathering the changes, market ups and downs, and differences in customers' taste. Perseverance and business acumen have paid off, and the store is now celebrating its 45th year in business on Franklin Street in Rocky Mount.
Copenhaver is quick to point out, though, the store owes its success to her mother, Jewel Hunt, who started J&J in 1968.
Hunt is one of those "J"s in the store's name. The other "J" belonged to her sister, Juanita Clyburn, who got out of the business early.
For Hunt, who is now semi-retired, opening the store may have been a logical step to take for someone who started to work in retail as a teenager.
"The first job I ever had was in this store (then Sample Shoe Store) when I was 13," she said. "I was in the eighth grade so I had to get a worker's permit."
Hunt continued to work there through high school, then married the late Ben Hunt, who was with Morris Furniture.
At that point, Hunt started working for Leggett's as a buyer and spent a total of 25 years with that company.
The experience of traveling to New York City as a buyer gave her a lot of confidence, she said, enough to take a chance.
"I then decided to go out on my own," she said, opening J&J Fashions in the same building where she worked as a teenager. "This is all I knew how to do. It's all I wanted to do. It's just my thing."
Hunt said clothing lines used to be more basic, so buying and selling was not quite as challenging.
"In a business, you have to go where your clientele takes you," she said, and for her that meant finding a niche in higher end fashion and designer clothing.
During the process of moving in that direction, she said a faithful clientele was developed and they still "drive from everywhere" to find fashions they may not be able to find anywhere else in the area.
Hunt said one of the keys to keeping customers returning is customer service, which her store has always made a priority.
"We are noted for our customer service," she said. "We even deliver."
Charity work is also on the store's agenda, she said, with a fashion show each year and other programs with proceeds donated to United Way and hospice care.
Although Hunt is semi-retired, she has always enjoyed the buying trips, and a trip to Atlanta is next on the agenda.
Buyers receive individual attention, she said, with private showings of clothing lines. Input from buyers determines what the design companies will put on the market next year.
"We see samples," she said. "The garments have not yet been made."
What is made for spring of 2014 is basically decided at the shows this year, she said.
Hunt said Copenhaver enjoys the buying trips to shows as well.
"I took Sheila on buying trips when she was 14," Hunt said. "Sheila's better at it than I ever was. She loves it."
Copenhaver said she does love it and grew up literally in the middle of the business, working part-time in high school and college.
"My job (when she was a teenager) was to fold jeans and make bows," she said. "I just loved being in the store and would do anything I needed to do."
In fact, Copenhaver has been working in the store at least part time since since she was a teen, except for a stay in Germany, when her husband, Vincent Copenhaver, a VMI graduate and financial director for Franklin County, was in the military.
But even in Germany, she worked at a fashion retailer as a buyer and went back to J&J full time when they returned to Franklin County in 1983.
"It's all about personal service," she said of the store's continued success, adding that their clientele is always impressed with the quality of the clothing.
"It is hand-picked quality merchandise," she said.
The lines of clothing carried by the store are also difficult to find locally. For example, she said the store carries Brighton, a line of clothing that is given to stores to sell only after a lengthy application process, which includes an inspection of the store. Only one other store in the region, in Roanoke, carries that line, she added.
J&J has been so successful that national awards have been presented to the store.
Last year, J&J was chosen out of 300 stores for the front cover of a fashion industry national magazine. Copenhaver and her mother flew to Dallas for the photo shoot for the magazine's fall edition.
Three years ago, J&J was chosen as one of the top fashion stores on the East Coast by Fashion Advantage magazine. That designation also garnered a front cover photo for Copenhaver and her mother.
Fashions are everywhere in the store, from Ming Wang to Sharon Young, and Copenhaver has also branched out into jewelry over the years and is now in the process of helping design a line of jewelry.
Copenhaver and Hunt are not the only ones who grew up in the business. The family tradition is being carried on by Copenhaver's daughter, Victoria, who graduated from Liberty University last year and is now working in Lynchburg as a buyer for J. Crew.
Copenhaver said the store will go on, and at some point, she hopes Victoria, who also worked in the store when she was a teenager, will return to J&J Fashions, and to Franklin County.
"The community has been really good to us," she said.
Copenhaver said the store plans some special events this summer to celebrate the anniversary.