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Michael Davenport replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Q&A about Asheville water system and the current state initiative
"Nicely done, and informative. I look forward to part 2."
Friday
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Thursday
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jul 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Life among the poorest is eye-openerby Rob Neufeld             Enlightened and sobered by Katherine Boo’s account of political amorality and human behavior in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” I was also amazed by her narrative achievement.            The book is…See More
Jul 7
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jul 5
Dave Turner posted a blog post

Does anyone need a good proofreader?

My company, Dave Turner Creative, has just Dave Turner Creative has formed a new partnership with expert proofreader Rebecca Lang. Here are her credentials, experience and specialties:http://daveturnercreative.com/proofreadingAll the best,Dave Turner, author of Billy Ray's…See More
Jul 2
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Book discussions in WNC, July 2014

WNC BOOK DISCUSSION CALENDAR, JULY 2014Tuesday, July 1WILD BOOK CLUB: The WILD Book Club discusses “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer at the Battery Park Book Exchange, 1 Page Ave., Asheville, 7 p.m. Call 254-6734.BOOK DISCUSSION: “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki is the subject of a book discussion at the Weaverville…See More
Jun 28
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jun 28
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jun 21
Kathryn Hall posted a blog post

Summer issue of GreenPrints is out!

The summer issue of GreenPrints is out! You probably know it's published right there in Fairview by Pat Stone, former longtime gardening editor of Mother Earth News! He's graciously included an excerpt of one of my favorite stories from my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden, which I do hope you will enjoy! He's also going to be making the book available on his site, soon! Thank you, Pat Stone! …See More
Jun 20
Sharon Gruber posted an event

Screening of "Stark Love" filmed in NC in 1929 at A-B Tech Ferguson Auditorium

June 21, 2014 from 2pm to 4pm
The movie, filmed in 1929 in Graham County NC, accompanies the Asheville History Center's "Hillbilly Land" exhibition.See More
Jun 19
Jerald Pope left a comment for Rob Neufeld
"Hey Rob, Can you make it to the reading tonight? If not, where can I send you a copy of the book? Best to email me at <jerry@harebrandideas.com>"
Jun 19
Jerald Pope posted an event

Jerry Pope reads New novel at Monte Visa Hotel

June 19, 2014 from 6pm to 7pm
Local artist and Swannanoa Valley historian Jerald Pope is releasing his first novel, “The Elvis Tooth.” Pope describes the book as “a comic, historical, action-packed beach book, about Black Mountain that combines real history and stories with a time travel flair,” The titular tooth, the key McGuffin in the story, was an actual tooth pulled from Elvis Presley’s mouth in Black Mountain by Dr. Love in 1975. Pope is best known locally for the “Way Back When” series of plays that ran at the Black…See More
Jun 19
Caralyn Davis posted a blog post

My Short Story "Belong" Published at Word Riot

May entertain, but it is a little edgy, NSFW (not safe for work) as the kids say, so consider yourself warned: http://www.wordriot.org/archives/7026See More
Jun 18
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Historic photo--Bent Field trestle wreck, 1928

HISTORIC PHOTO Bent Field trestle wreck “We have many train wreck pictures,” says Marcy Thompson, Local History Librarian at Transylvania County Library.  Railroad and logging work were dangerous occupations; and Joe Wilde, a logging crew foreman and photographer had been on site for a number of them.  The wreck…See More
Jun 17
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Spruce Pine and North Toe, part 3

Spruce Pine and North Toe: The History and the Vision Part 3 of 4: Entering the 20th centuryby Rob Neufeld(See Part 1.  See Part 2.)             Susanna “Aunt Susie” Wiseman Phillips was 72 years old when the 20th century arrived in the…See More
Jun 16

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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