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Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Sunday
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

73 classic works about Appalachia going online

Key Appalachian studies publications now going onlinefrom press release, Jan. 27. 2016 Appalachian studies scholars and those interested in regional history will have greater access to out-of-print works thanks to a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Open Book Program grant totaling $88,000 awarded to Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University.  Pamela Mitchem, the library’s coordinator of digital scholarship and…See More
Jan 30
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

John Parris' home-grown prose

South of Sylva, back of yesterday: John Parris' inspiration             “For the life of me, I just can’t understand why folks stopped usin’ cradles,” John Parris’ 97-year-old maternal grandfather had told him 60 years ago.            The oil lamp, the buggy, and the spinning wheel—they all were replaced by things…See More
Jan 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

James Sturm expands scope of graphic novels

James Sturm blazes cartoon path to a new worldby Rob Neufeld             Why is it that when an author combines pictures with words, the medium is considered juvenile, like comics?  Words create literature; images, art.  Why, when you marry them, is it like pairing a milk cow with a mop?            Nothing against…See More
Jan 24
susannah eanes posted a blog post

The Writer as Pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here. The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of…See More
Jan 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Tired of thrillers with no soul?

Why read a 1940 man-on-the-run classicby Rob Neufeld             After reading a classic novel, you might think, “Oh, look at this superior ancestor of today’s fiction.”              For instance, “The Power and the Glory,” Graham Greene’s 1940 thriller about political oppression in Mexico, exemplifies the…See More
Jan 17
Susan True updated their profile
Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman

Dance critic applies grace to every moveby Rob Neufeld             It’s nice to find just the right word for something, especially when it sums up a main idea in your way of thinking.            That was the case with Sarah Kaufman when she’d first felt moved, nine years ago, to write her new book, “The Art of Grace” (W.W.…See More
Jan 9
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Jan 8
Kathryn Hall posted a blog post

Fire and Ice Roses interview with author/gardening blogger Kathryn Hall

Fire and Ice Roses has been interviewing gardening bloggers and gardening experts and were kind enough to include this short interview recently which was quite fun and very much appreciated! http://fireandiceroses.com/ask-an-expert-kathryn-hall/See More
Jan 5
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

History in the making, January 2, 2016

History in the making: items of note, January 2, 2016It was reported in today’s print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times that a new state law went into effect, requiring people who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to make at least 5 job contacts a week.  It had been 2.  How will that work?  Are there that many jobs for which a person is qualified?  Can you apply to the same job twice if it continues to be listed? Paul Bonesteel, noted Asheville filmmaker, revealed on Facebook that a…See More
Jan 2
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Local event of the day, Jan 1 2016

Tarantino, eminent domain, and emancipation Tarantino comes to townQuentin Tarantino’s New Year’s gore and gabfest, The Hateful Eight, is gutted by New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, who says that Tarantino toys with rather than explores history, using it “for boyish fantasies of revenge, as if enormous crimes could be undone, after the event, by lone and wanton acts of humiliation.” …See More
Jan 1
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profitby Rob NeufeldWritten in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine…See More
Dec 24, 2015
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Hosts of Christmas Past

Traditions shall not expire say hosts of Christmas pastby Rob Neufeld PHOTO CAPTION: Maria Parker Taylor Beale, courtesy Chase Ambler.            On Christmas Eve in 1928, Maria Taylor Beale, mistress of Arden House, instructed her family to bring her downstairs in her bathrobe for she would not…See More
Dec 24, 2015
City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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Kakalak Journal Reading at City Lights Bookstore

January 23, 2016 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Contributors to the annual journal KAKALAK will visit City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, January 23rd at 3 p.m. to read and talk about their work. KAKALAK is an annual publication featuring North and South Carolina writers and artists.To reserve a copy of the journal, please call City Lights Bookstore at 828-586-9499. To view a list of contributing authors, please visit …See More
Dec 21, 2015

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.

 

Origins

 

            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.”

 

PHOTO CAPTION

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.

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