Affiliated Networks



Latest Activity

Martha Arrowood Pelc posted a photo

Love and Mercy Booksigning

Gaston County Library, Main BranchGastonia, NCDec. 12. 20153:30 - 5:30 pm
9 hours ago
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
Nov 25
Dawn Trowell Jones updated their profile
Nov 24
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Nov 13
Rob Neufeld commented on Mark de Castrique's video
Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
Martha Arrowood Pelc posted a photo

Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9

Biltmore clothiers talk about the village in its in-between years

Button-downs helped revive Biltmore Village

by Rob Neufeld

See video.


            When John William “Bill” Bell Jr., age 28, branched out from his father’s business in Lattimore, N.C. to establish Bell’s College Corner (later, Bell’s Traditionals) in Biltmore Village in 1963, shops on the Plaza were vacant, homes dating from the Vanderbilt era had devolved into low-cost rentals, and current wisdom was “Don’t do it.”

            But Bell knew that his shop was a destination location; and that he had cornered a new market niche.

            “We brought the traditional Ivy League look to Asheville,” Bell said in a recent interview. 

            Gant was the big name in button-down shirts, hailing from Yale.  Bass made Weejuns, which James  Dean wore.  Southwick suits introduced a natural shoulder. London Fog’s raincoats earned an ad on “Mad Men”: “Limit your exposure.”


Riding the wave


            The merchants downtown had a few of the lines Bell carried, and sensed competition, Bell recounted, “but the word was, ‘He won’t be there long because he won’t make it in Biltmore.’  That made me work harder,” Bell said. Plus, he had “what the young person wanted.”

            The Beatles were just about to make their splash in America.  Kids at Lee Edwards High School, were listening to Patti Page, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and The Drifters.  Many were already wearing the shirts, blazers, and, for women, cashmere sweaters, that their recently graduated friends were donning at Chapel Hill and elsewhere.

            The traditional look—which Justin Timberlake boosts with his recent hit, “Suit and Tie” (his collar is buttonless, but he’s wearing black loafers)—has stayed classic.  Today, Bell’s salesmen dress youths going to interviews (including, Bell tells, his grandson), as well as professionals going to meetings.  


Kids on the bus


            In the ‘60s and 70s, high schoolers’ needs extended further—to church and to sports. 

            On the day of the interview in the store, Asheville attorney Gene Ellison came in for a suit, and that got Bell recollecting.  “He was a very good basketball player.  In basketball, when you visited another town, they required you to wear a coat and tie” when arriving by bus.

            Jody Anderson, the most experienced salesman in what is now Jos. A. Bank Clothiers (in 1991, Bell became a franchisee of that company), had been a self-described clothes horse at Lee Edwards and Asheville-Biltmore College.

            Shortly before Bell opened his first store on Aug. 8, 1963, Anderson had met him by chance.

            “There used to be a little grocery store across the street—Trantham’s,” Anderson said in the interview.  “They had a little deli in there.  A friend of mine and I stopped in and got a sandwich, and were standing in the parking lot, eating a sandwich. 

            “He (Bell) never met a stranger, and he came up and said, ‘My name’s Bill Bell.  Y’all live around here?’   We said, ‘Yeah, we do.’  He said, ‘I’m thinking about opening a men’s shop across the street.  You got a few minutes?’

            “I was working for my uncle {A.J. Johnson), who had a butcher shop on Sweeten Creek Rd. called Meat Service of Asheville, and he (Bell) asked me, ‘Do you think you’d like to work here part-time?’”

            A few months later, Bell rang Anderson up, as promised, and, Anderson remarks, “That’s why I’ve been in this for 50 years.”


Keys to success


            Anderson was trained in the Bell customer-oriented philosophy: “If you give them service and the quality they want, they’ll beat a path to your door.”  Quality has meant hand-tailoring, and many customers remember Gus Sedaris, the tailor who’d served a five-year apprenticeship with a master in Greece before coming to the South.

            “He was old school,” Anderson recalls.  “He didn’t want new equipment because he worked with a 20-pound iron—that’s what he pressed with.  The finished product was incredibly beautiful.”

            Many students besides Anderson became part-time workers at Bell’s over the years—and they and their families have become loyal patrons.  In fact, the interviewer in this article is expected and likely to become one, too.




            Right from the start, success had come quickly for Bell.  He opened the Carriage Shop for ladies’ sportswear in 1964; and soon after, a shoe store, Pappagallo; the Executive Shop; and several  others.  In 1977, he issued his first catalog, for Christmas; and in 1978, a Spring/Summer one.

            “The cream of the madras plaids is exclusively ours in the enduring blazer by Deansgate,” one entry read. 

            For about 25 years, Bell thrived in a village that had not yet reached its current renaissance, one of the milestones of which, Bell notes, was the city’s restoration of brick sidewalks, and its digging up and resetting of granite curbs.  Various businesses occupied and renovated the historic cottages that had mostly become vacant.

            Now, the Bell Company has fourteen clothing stores from Augusta to New Orleans; and Bell’s sons—John, President and CEO of Biltmore Property Group, the firm founded to develop projects sensitive to architecture, history, and community; and Jeff, Director of Property Management—carry on a tradition that goes back to the first John Bell.

            When Bill had reported back to his father that he’d found a building—the abandoned Biltmore post office—for his first enterprise, John Sr. said, “You got more than you can look after, Bill.”

            A few days later, dad went down to Bill’s College Shop in the basement of the Lattimore general store, and said, “Let’s go to Asheville (because) you’re not going to be happy till I see what you’re looking at.’

            “He was more ready to go than I was.  He’d called the realtor, and we talked to him.  The building was $100 a month, and he said, ‘Well, we’re going to have to put heat in it.  How about $75?’  The fellow said, ‘Yes’; and my dad had cash—he always carried cash.  He gave him money for the first month.”



Bill Bell (l.) and Jody Anderson (r.) talk about the history of the clothing business in Biltmore Village, sitting in an office of a building being renovated on the Plaza.

Views: 161

Reply to This

© 2015   Created by Rob Neufeld.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service