Fields Reopened in New Building at Old Location After 1947 Fire
Many area residents will likely remember Fields, Inc., known as “The Workingman’s Store,” located at 104-06 E. Main Street at Fountain Square. On Tuesday, December 23, 1947, the store became engulfed in flames, causing an estimated $100,000 damage to the building and its contents. Fortunately, no injuries occurred. I vaguely recall riding with my parents and grandparents the following day to Fountain Square to witness what was left of the gutted structure. The holiday-season fire was said to have been one of the worst of the previous decade.
According to business owner, Pascal Fields, part of the loss was covered by insurance. Furthermore, no customer, so far as could be determined, lost any money from the blaze. Although many people had “lay-away” items there, about $1500 was refunded to customers.
Fields began operating from 112 Spring Street (located across the street from the Sevier Theatre) and then relocated to 314 E. Main (future location of Ben’s Sports Shop). Over the next 13 months, the building underwent extensive renovation. J.E. Green, a prominent Johnson City contractor, razed and rebuilt the two-story steel and concrete building at a cost of $50,000 to $75,000. Construction began in midsummer 1948 and finishing touches were wrapped up six months later.
On Thursday, January 6, 1949, the store reopened to the public, who encountered a new and modern store that was significantly dissimilar to the old facility. The store’s two floors contained more than 5,000 square feet of selling space, with the first floor devoted to men’s wear and the second one to hardware. When I was in ROTC at Science Hill High School, I always bought Brasso, a metal polish, from Field’s for shining the insignia on my uniform.
On reopening day, some fortunate individual won a $425 RCA Victor combination radio-phonograph. Those desiring to win the prize had to visit the store and register for it. They did not have to purchase anything or be present to win. The fortunate person was announced three days later in Sunday’s Johnson City Press-Chronicle.
In order to accommodate customers who were unable to attend the grand opening during regular hours, Mr. Fields extended business hours until 8 p.m. that day.
The store’s staff included individuals whose names and faces were familiar to customers: Hubert Britt, J. Ollie Susong, Bruce Pierce, Charlie Street, Henry Kelly and John L. Saylor.
George Allen, a resident of Johnson City and a factory representative for a work garment sold at the store, attended the grand opening and pointed out to shoppers the many features his firm’s product had to offer.
Area labor officials congratulated the store on its reopening. In a letter to Fields, dated December 28, 1948, E.F. Dean, secretary and treasurer of the Johnson City Central Labor Union said, “Organized labor in Johnson City and East Tennessee wishes to congratulate you on the opening of your new store. We know that it will be a definite asset to the community. We note with pleasure the many lines of union-made goods you are carrying.”
Fields, a native of East Tennessee, had been in business in Johnson City since 1922 when he opened his first retail outlet, Army Supply Store, at 115-17 W. Market Street. Many of us remember that site as being the Mecca Café (115) and Clarence Hale’s Jewelers (117). In 1930, he moved his operation to 104-06 E. Main under a new name and remained there until the fire.
At first, Fields carried nothing but Army surplus goods but later branched out into other commodities. He acknowledged that Army and Navy surplus merchandise were still important items in the store: “Genuine Army and Navy surplus stock is scarce,” said Fields. “We will, however, carry a line of selected items of new merchandise. New numbers will be added when available.”
A perusal of the large grand opening advertisement from the Johnson City Press-Chronicle on January 5 offers a hint of the store’s renewed business focus: work clothes (Duck Head, Big Yank, Fly, Romanco, Headlight, Blum, Big Jack, Super Jewel, Covert, Chambray, Allen Brand); overalls (Duck Head ($3.40), Big Jack, Super Jewel ($1.95), Headlight); hats (Thoroughbred, Lion Brand; shoes (Fortune, Ball Brand Rubber Footware); work gloves (White Mule); Army/Navy Surplus (Army Style B-15 Jackets, Army Style Field Shoes ($4.88), Army Blankets ($3.98), Navy Dungarees ($1.88)); hunting clothes (Drybak); jackets (Windbreaker, Appalachian Horsehide ($14.90)); shirts and shorts (McDee); 100% Wool Suits ($24.90); Big 4 String Brooms; and underwear (Fruit of the Loom).
The ad also contained four photographs: the new store lit up at night with the store sign shining brightly, the first floor aimed at men and boys, the second floor displaying hardware products and one showing firemen battling the blaze that destroyed the first business in 1947. The caption under the first floor photo says, “A view of our ultra-new first floor, catering to men and boys of all ages, with the finest popular priced dress and work clothing to be had in this area. The description for the second floor stated, “A view of our big, new second floor Hardware Department. Built primarily with the workingmen and farmer in mind, our customer throughout the years.
Mr. Fields expressed his appreciation to the public for their patience in waiting about a year for the completion of the new store. He was impressed and gratified that people continued to purchase items from him at his two temporary locations until the new facility was ready. He said, “We shall try to live up to the friendship accorded us by the people of this area.”