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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

June 1926, Asheville

One week in 1926 reveals remarkable highs and lowsby Rob Neufeld             Bootleg whiskey and golf are undermining religion, B. Frank White, a traveling preacher, told a Charlotte audience on June 2, 1926.  The sermon was reported in the Asheville Citizen the next day.            “The trouble with your…See More
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Robert Beatty posted a photo

Robert Beatty

Author Robert Beatty from Asheville, NC
Tuesday
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Apr 18
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Apr 18
Caralyn Davis posted an event
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Page to Podium Writers Workshop & Malaprop’s Reading With Author Mel Ryane at Unitarian Universalist Church

April 25, 2015 from 10am to 3pm
The Flatiron Writers are proud to announce an encore presentation of actor Mel Ryane’s popular Page to Podium Workshop, for writers interested in improving their public reading and self-editing skills. See testimonials from past participants here: http://www.melryane.com/p/from-page-to-podium.htmlWhen: 10:00am-3:00pm, Saturday, April 25, 2015Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, 1 Edwin Place, Asheville, NC 28801Cost: $65 per…See More
Apr 16
Caralyn Davis posted a blog post

Planet Reasonable: I'm officially an essayist at Killing the Buddha

I now have a blog, Planet Reasonable, at the lovely website Killing the Buddha. My first essay is a wee piece on religious freedom laws. Enjoy, or hate, but thanks for reading: http://killingthebuddha.com/ktblog/stop-casting-religious-freedom-stones/See More
Apr 14
Lockie Hunter posted an event
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West End Poetry and Prose Reading Series April Reading at West End Bakery

April 11, 2015 from 7pm to 9pm
4 fine writers tomorrow (Saturday April 11th) at 7pm at West End Bakery. I'll host and curate. Free event with a mix of prose and poetry and storytelling!http://www.thelaurelofasheville.com/editorial/west-end-poetry-and-prose-reading-series-invites-all-to-experience-local-voices photo credit Leah Shaipro for the LaurelSee More
Apr 10
Lockie Hunter posted a photo
Apr 10
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Interview with Ron Rash, October 28, 2014

Interview with Ron Rash, Oct. 28, 2014by Rob Neufeldon occasion of publication of Something Rich and Strangeedited version published in Asheville Citizen-Times, Nov. 2, 2014full version published on The Read on WNC, Apr. 9, 2015Photo of Ron Rash by Ulf Andersen RN:  My head is now so full of Ron…See More
Apr 9
Laura Hope-Gill posted an event

Asheville Wordfest 2015 at Asheville Lenoir-Rhyne University

May 1, 2015 at 6pm to May 2, 2015 at 9pm
Lenoir-Rhyne University presents Asheville Wordfest at its Asheville campus in downtown Asheville May 1 and 2. In its eighth year, Asheville Wordfest turns its eye on Asheville and invites community members to write about their city. Using the theme “The City Narrative / The Narrative City,” festival director and also director…See More
Apr 8
Rob Neufeld updated their profile
Apr 7
Rose Senehi posted an event

MEET THE CAST OF CHARACTER in DANCING ON ROCKS at LAKE LURE INN, LAKE LURE

April 16, 2015 from 11:30am to 2pm
Rose Senehi with be the guest speaker at a Books and Bites Luncheon about her novel, Dancing on Rocks, which takes place in Chimney Rock. Many of the characters in the book are actual residents of the town and will also be talking about how they contributed to the story. Cost: $25. Half of which goes to the Friends. Call 828-287-6392 for reservations. See More
Apr 7
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

Visiting author Dubus reveals swamp of loveby Rob Neufeld             The title of Andre Dubus III’s book is “Dirty Love,” not “Dirty Sex,” so you have to rethink what is meant by the word, “dirty.”            To do that, you’ve got four novellas with which to explore the lives and hearts of several not-quite-right couples…See More
Apr 5
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Vance Monument and the honoring of African American history

What’s in a monument—a complex viewby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Vance Monument and 6th County Courthouse, c. 1900           History has become a subject of special interest with proposals surrounding the renovation of the Vance monument.           …See More
Apr 4
City Lights Bookstore posted an event

Greening Up The Mountains Poetry Contest Reception at City Lights Bookstore

April 25, 2015 from 1pm to 2pm
The reception for the 2nd annual Greening Up the Mountains Poetry Contest will be at City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, April 25th at 1 p.m. Join us as the winning poets share their poems and collect their prizes.  Students from Jackson County submitted poems that celebrate our mountains and our connection to them in our everyday lives.  The response was wonderful and our judges loved reading what our local students offered. Winners will be announced soon. For any questions please call City…See More
Apr 1
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Mar 31

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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