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Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smokies literature unfolds in guideby Rob Neufeld             Immersing yourself in the deep recesses of our region’s literature has just become easier.            The University of Tennessee Press has engaged experts to scour archives for publications about the Great Smoky Mountains, 1544 to 1934; and they’ve…See More
18 hours ago
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
18 hours ago
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Bobby Norfolk starts storytelling, June 28

Bobby Norfolk Throws First Pitch for Kaleidoscope: Celebrating Diversityat Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch 2014from press release June 28 eventBobby Norfolk, three-time Emmy Award-winner is the lead storyteller for the fifth season of Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch--Kaleidoscope: Celebrating Diversity, June 28 in the Rhino Courtyard of Pack Place.  The stories begin at 10:30 a.m., rain or shine, and are free to the public.  Entrances to the Rhino Courtyard are from Biltmore Avenue under…See More
19 hours ago
Evelyn Asher posted photos
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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Inez and Annie Daugherty and African American history

The Daughertys of Black Mountain spanned racial historyby Rob Neufeld             “The children in Cragmont (an African American neighborhood in Black Mountain) and High Top Colony, where my family lived, walked to school in groups,” Daugherty recalled about her 1920s childhood in a talk she had with me in 2005.            “White children rode the bus,” she revealed.  “They sometimes threw things at us and called us ugly names, but my mother told me, ‘You know who you are.  Those names do not…See More
Tuesday
Sue Diehl posted an event

MONTREAT COLLEGE FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY LUNCHEON at Montreat College, Gaither Fellowship Hall, Montreat, NC

June 21, 2014 from 12pm to 2:30pm
Pamela Duncan, author of Moon Women, Plant Life, and The Big Beautiful, will be the speaker at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon on Saturday, June 21, 2014, in the Gaither Fellowship Hall.See More
Monday
Rose Senehi posted events
Apr 11
Jerald Pope posted an event

It ain’t for wimps: readings on aging at Monte Vista Hotel

April 17, 2014 from 6pm to 7pm
Increased life expectancy brings with it increased opportunities, problems, and responsibilities. Both the aged and the pre-aged will find much to ponder at the Black Mountain Authors Guild’s reading at the Monte Vista this Thursday at 6 pm. Four local writers will share their thinking on the subject: Danielle Laverty will read her essay on aging that won the Black Mt. Public Library contest, Nancy Werking Poling will read from her current and published fiction, and James and Cannan Hyde will…See More
Apr 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Asheville Wordfest May 2-4, 2014

Asheville Wordfest 2014(Photo top right, Laurey Masterton from Asheville Chamber of Commerce; 2nd photo, Laura Hope-Gill from www.thehealingseed.com) A webpage in progress!Asheville Wordfest, an annual…See More
Apr 8
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Fiddler of the Mountains by Eva Nell Mull Wike

Fiddler and His FamilyFiddler of the Mountains: Attuned to the Life and Times of Johnny Mull by Eva Nell Mull Wike (Donning Company hardcover, Nov. 2013, 96 pages, $25)See other new WNC books Wike, author of the…See More
Apr 7
William Roy Pipes posted a blog post

Four Novels Are Now Available

I now have four Novels in print. A fifth Novel, True Love, is finished, but to date not yet published. The four available on-line are: Darby, my bestselling Appalachian novel; Hanging Dog, An Appalachian Community, is a sequel to Darby, Doodlebug, Doodlebug, Your House is on Fire, an Appalachian novel beginning in 1940; and a novelette, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, a murder mystery full of intrigue, danger, and espionage. All four novels are available on Amazon.com and wherever books are…See More
Apr 7
Bill Ramsey posted a blog post

Brain Injury Recovery

Brain injury recovery is difficult and anything but certain. When I met Angela Leigh Tucker in late 2008, she was only four months into her battle. A sudden truck-on-car crash had killed her young husband and left her hanging on to life by a thread.For the next three years I researched the topic of traumatic brain injury or TBI. Angela and I travelled together to meeting of brain injury survivors and conferences on the subject. I interviewed countless doctors, therapists, co-workers, family…See More
Apr 7
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Asheville Wordfest May 2, 3, 4: Fiction, Poetry, Storytelling, more! at Asheville Lenoir-Rhyne University

May 2, 2014 at 5pm to May 4, 2014 at 5pm
Asheville Wordfest reaches its seventh year (lucky lucky!) with an expansion to include fiction, poetry, storytelling, songwriting, community conversation, poetry animation, and creative nonfiction. Coming of age with the help of North Carolina Arts Council, Katuah Market, Fine Arts Theater, Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe, and more than thirty writers, poets, musicians, and songwriters, Wordfest continues its commitment the Asheville and WNC communities, representing as many of our communities as the…See More
Apr 3

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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