A 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication offers a concise analysis of The Bee Hive Department Store that was once located at Fountain Square in downtown Johnson City:
“No better description of the growth of Johnson City could be given than a review of the representative establishments which began business in the early days and have marked every stepping stone of the city’s progress; and in fact, the city today is composed largely of the progress of these concerns. It may be said that the Bee Hive, owned and operated by P.M. Ward and C.D. Friberg, has been established for 25 years and has always been a conspicuous feature of the commercial interests of the city and the growth of the enterprise has been in harmony with the growth of the city.”
The expansive store opened in 1890 at 207-209 E. Main Street and extended north to 104-106 E. Market Street. At the time, it was the town’s largest department store, employing 20 people. Many people today remember this location as the former Parks-Belk Department Store. The new store was said to be “an immense establishment, made up of many departments, including dry-goods, millinery, ladies’ ready-to-wear, shoes, gents’ furnishings, groceries, hardware, stationary, wallpaper, mattings, drugs, sundries and prescriptions.”
The Chamber reported that the store was under highly capable management, declaring that there was no venture in the city that had gone forward with such sureness and steady progress as The Bee Hive. An advertisement from the Jan. 28, 1904 Comet reads similar to those of today except for the prices:
“Now Comes the Time for Clearing Out Everything in Winter Goods. We Don’t Intend to Carry a Dollar’s Worth Over if Prices Cut Deep Will Turn Them Lose. (We) have a few furs at one-third off; some jackets at one-fourth to one-half off; several dress skirts at one-fourth off; a few cases of underwear at one-fourth off; 125 lbs. of all wool stocking yarn at $.44/lb.; some blankets to close out; all wool dress goods and trimmings at $.10 to $.25 off.
“In the Clothing Department, we are closing out all heavy suits for men at greatly reduced prices: All $22, $20, $18 and $17.50 suits at $15; all $15 and $14 at $12; all $12 at $10; all $10 at $8.50; and all $7 at $5. In Boys’ Clothing, we sell you any $8 suit at $6; any $6 at $5, any $5 at $4 and plenty of suits at from $4 down as low as $1. A few overcoats to close – $15 coats at $12, $12 at $10, $10 at $8, $8 at $4.35 and on down.
“In the Shoe Department, we are taking out all heavy goods and cutting the price to clear them out. Some $3.50 shoes at $2.65; $2.50 at $2; $2 at $1.65; $1.50 at $1.30. We have a nice lot of lady’s shoes at cut prices. In the Carpet Department, we are selling $1.20 velvets at $.90, $1 at $.80, $.75 Brussels at $.65, $.50 at $.44 and ingrains at $.44.”
The ad ends with an amusing comment: “Now, don’t you think for a minute that there is any mistake about these prices; for if you do you will find out later that someone else has been here and got what you wanted. Come and see what we are doing this cold weather. Very truly, Ward & Friberg.”
Another ad from that same year shows: “For Good Things To Eat and for The Best Coffee and Teas. Fine Candies Are a Specialty. The Coffee Pot Assumes a New Place in Your Estimation When It Brews Delicious Chase & Sanborn’s High Grade Coffee.”
The Bee Hive closed it doors about 1920 after a highly successful 30-year run. The location was then divided into two businesses – City Savings & Trust Company at 207 E. Main and C.E. Cate Department Store at 209 E. Main. In 1924, the City Savings and Trust Company gave way to The Savoy, a confectionery, but that is another story.
Within four years, Parks-Belk Company would proudly occupy the familiar downtown site and become a successful venture in its own right. The Bee Hive certainly made its mark on downtown Johnson City.