Summers Hardware and Supply Company has had a long convoluted metamorphosis as it migrated through several decades, store locations and individuals into the business that is today located at 400 Buffalo Street.

The origin appears to go back to 1870 when G.C. Seaver came to Johnson City and opened a dry goods store. He later sold it and established a hardware store, which became the second oldest business in Johnson City. In 1888, Joseph P. Summers, who worked for the C.M. McClung Company, bought half interest in Seaver’s business and the store became Seavers & Summers.

After January 1893, a third person, James A. Summers, who had been working at the store as a clerk, formed a partnership with his uncle, Ben D. Lyle and acquired the business, bringing about another name – Lyle & Summers. Prior to April 1896, J.A. Summers and Harry H. Lyle, Ben Lyle’s son, owned the store reversing the company designation to Summers & Lyle.

After April 1896, Lyle sold his interest to their uncle William J. Barton. Soon, the company was relocated when Barton & St. John Hardware combined to form Summers and Barton. After March 1897, another transformation came into play when John F. Lyle, another uncle, united with the company to become Summers, Barton & Lyle. 

To further add to the myriad of business titles, after February 1900, H.R. Parrott, who had been traveling with a nearby Bristol firm, arrived in town and bought John Lyle’s interest in the operation. Also, Joseph P. Summers who had left the city in 1892 returned and joined the company. The new name was Summers, Barton & Parrott.

After 1910, William Barton decided to organize a retail store and feed business so he sold his portion to James A. Summers. The new partnership became identified as Summers-Parrott Hardware Company and boasted of $50,000 in capitalization. Summers became president of the new firm and sold the retail department to other individuals in the city. The business was now fully wholesale and would remain as such until the present.

When the Buffalo Street operation opened its doors to the pubic in 1911, its business flourished. The company began selling Ford and Buick automobiles in addition to hardware.

A 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication had glowing comments about the firm: “One of the most striking features of the big business interests of Johnson City is stability, as exhibited in the fact that among its representative houses are some that have gained success and prominence by steady development through many years of active and honorable business history, a notable example being Summers-Parrott Hardware Company.

“This is one of the largest concerns of its kind in this section and operates an immense business in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. The comparatively new building now occupied is an immense four-story structure and basement, 107 by 150 feet in dimensions and erected in the year 1911.”

After 1915, industry conditions necessitated the separating of the business. Parrott chose to stay with the automobile portion so he sold his interest to James A. Summers, built a garage next door to his former company and opened his store. Summers-Parrott Hardware was reorganized as Summers Hardware Company and, over the next several years, edged forward in spite of numerous economic downturns.

However, the company went bankrupt in 1936 and was reorganized as Summers Hardware and Supply Company, Inc. by creditors from banks and manufacturers. Fitzhugh Wallace, a local banker, became president of the struggling company. Wallace was a savvy businessman and vigilantly brought the besieged firm out of insolvency. He remained in that capacity until he became Chairman of the Board. His son Fitzhugh Wallace Jr. became President and his daughter, Gwen Wallace, part owner.

In a 1992 interview with Press writer, Phyllis Johnson, the two Wallace owners stated that their father restructured the company in difficult times, shifting toward industrial supplies, maintenance and construction goods. By then, consumers began migrating toward one-stop mega variety stores where they could shop for hardware items and sundry other merchandise under the convenience of one roof. It was during this time that Summers Hardware Company began selling automobile parts, a decision that proved to be highly lucrative.

In 1991 sensing it was time to move on, the Wallace family located their replacements in the business’s front office, selling it to employees John R. Lawson and R. Glenn Shaw. Eight years later, Shaw became sole owner. Today, the company is a thriving MRO wholesale supplier serving a wide-ranging customer base that includes manufacturers, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and commercial contractors.

It has been said that the wooden floors of the massive Summers Hardware building creak under the feet of those who walk over it as a testament to the strength of both the building and the work carried on there. Unlike its many former competitors of years past who have long passed from the scene, the business has pressed forward. The large letters on the side of the century-old building are a constant reminder to the populace of its lengthy and intricate history. And the beat goes on.

Thanks to Alex Summers, Gwen Wallace and Glenn Shaw for their valuable input to this article. 

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Four Responders Reflect on Frick’s Downtown Music Mart

 My recent Music Mart article brought response from four people, Robert Bowman, James Edens and two people identified only as Mr. A and Mr. B. 

Mr. A stated, “Henry Frick was a perfectionist, an intelligent merchant and a skilled craftsman who demanded nothing less from his employees. Nevertheless, he was a compassionate gentleman whose place of business reflected his noble character.  Area piano teachers and bandleaders knew where to go for all their music-related needs: the Music Mart.”

Robert Bowman, who worked there from fall 1963 until spring 1966, remembered the close-knit couple “coming back from lunch, hand-in-hand, like high school sweethearts, usually bringing with them a new idea for the business.”

“Since it was the Music Mart on which band members from most local schools relied for upkeep of their instruments, Henry and Gary Phillips were kept steadily busy as repairmen six days per week.

“As a courier, I spent many hours out of the store, getting defective instruments to the post office for safe shipment to the appropriate factory, chauffeuring the youngest Frick daughter on designated Saturdays, getting Frick's car washed and picking up the family's dry cleaning.”

In my first article, I noted Henry’s unique dry humor. Robert supplied another example: “I was also responsible for dusting instruments and displays. One day, Mr. Frick approached me and said ‘Are you saving this dust for any reason?’

“Gene Young traveled throughout northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia to elementary, junior high and senior high schools, collecting defective instruments and delivering restored ones. 

Bowman's successor and former neighbor, James Edens, made this comment: “You could set your watch by Gene's arrival. When that van pulled in, it was about time to lock up and go home.”

“Toward closing time each day,” recalled Robert, “every staffer was assigned to put vinyl records back into their proper sleeves after listeners usually left the discs in disarray. The store had private audition booths equipped with headsets that were liberally used by many junior high, senior high and college students.

An anonymous former hired hand, Mr. B, recalls the entire staff taking inventory annually on January 1: “The unpleasantness of this unwelcome ritual quickly subsided when Mr. Frick treated us mentally tired laborers to a delectable meal at the Dixie Drive-In Restaurant. The only negative element of these dining experiences was our boss man's insistence on celebrating the new year by every one eating black-eyed peas. I nearly choked.”

“Perhaps Mr. Frick's tolerance toward all youth,” said Bowman, “including those happy-go-lucky ones who often ‘parked’ in the sound booths for extended time spans, can be attributed to his hope that some of the hearers would become players, transforming mayhem to melody. From the wise man's perspective, negative behavior of these non-buyers, whose loud conversations distracted customers, might be eventually channeled into desirable activity, such as mastering a horn or a keyboard.”

Robert concluded with picturesque words: “A stroll down South Roan Street today yields no vestige of the little Music Mart. Yet, in the mind's eye, one can imagine the enterprising Henry puffing on his pipe, each smoke ring signaling an innovation for his beloved store while his soul-mate flashes a sweet smile of concurrence.” 

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A bright spot of my early college years was working part-time for Henry and Mary Lou Frick at the Music Mart at 403 S. Roan Street, just up the block from King’s Department Store.

Henry was a skilled businessman who operated a large well-organized business from a very compact store. He sold a wide variety of items such as band instruments, harmonicas, drumsticks, pads, sheet music, records, consoles, portable record players and reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Henry and Mondel “Montie” Butterfield opened the store on W. Market Street in August 1946. Henry was working at WJHL radio at the time. Dr. Butterfield, ETSC's Music Department director, later retired and sold his portion of the business to the Fricks.

After working at the store during the 1961 Christmas holiday season, I was offered and accepted a part-time job with the couple in May 1962. My hours were Monday through Friday after school and all day Saturdays averaging about 23 hours per week, which provided this college student with some much-needed money.

I recall several coworkers: Gene Young, school band representative (and drummer for the Charlie Goodwin Band); Judy Bell, store supervisor; Willard Blevins, instrument repairman; and five clerks: Betty Gabbert, Nancy Steele, Eddie Washburn, Ken Harris and Linda Ogden.

My duties included the usual janitorial services plus dressing the front store window, preparing mail orders, taking them to the post office, making bank deposits at Peoples Bank, assisting customers during peak hours, occasionally traveling with Gene in the store’s Volkswagen van, taking the Frick's old green and white Pontiac to Direct Oil Service Station at 502 S. Roan Street for servicing and hauling returned defective record players for repair to Johnson City Radio & TV Service, owned by Ray McCrary and Joe Phillips on Spring Street,.

Another occasional responsibility was handling printing needs for Ken Marsh (who worked at WJHL radio) on an old mimeograph machine in the back of the store that looked like it came over on the Mayflower. I had to laboriously insert a scrap “slit sheet” between each page to prevent smearing of good copies.

Henry and Mary Lou had three daughters. One of my imperative duties was sporadically mailing Moon Pies to their oldest daughter and husband who lived in Maryland. I assume they bought their own RC Colas.

Henry always had a witty sense of humor. One day he walked to the back of the store and said, “A man wants to know the price of that dusty record player in the front of the store.” On another occasion, he uttered, “There is a dead bug in the harmonica display case that needs a price tag.” 

Right after the store opened the day after one Christmas, Judy informed me that Mr. Frick wanted me to remove all the store decorations. Thinking the Fricks had not arrived yet, I responded, “Take them down? You’ve got to be kidding. Henry Ebenezer Scrooge Frick.” A deep resonating German voice floated from the rear of the store boldly affirming, “Bah Humbug, take them down.” Henry walked around the corner wearing that characteristic smirk on his face. I took the decorations down.

I could go on forever with cherished memories of the Music Mart. I worked for Henry and Mary Lou until I transferred to the University of Tennessee in September 1964. My employment at the Music Mart under the Frick dexterous baton was educational, entertaining and memorable. I loved every minute of it.   

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The July 5, 1888 edition of The Comet newspaper contained a bold headline: “Promptly at 8 o’clock last Friday night, the electricity was turned on for the first time and for Johnson City, night turned to day.”

The announcement was the fulfillment of work that began in April of that same year. Businessman H.H. Corson, representing the Thomas-Houston Electric Company of Boston, was responsible for the momentous happening. He sold stock in an electric plant that ultimately produced the first electricity supplied to the city. Power became available to Johnson Citians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Comet further stated, “The private arc light at Jobe’s Livery Stable was the first to light and remain burning and therefore attracted the largest crowd. All the stores in the city have agreed to take lights and are being wired as fast as possible.”

A 1905 advertisement from the files of the old East Tennessee Light and Power Company reveals what appears to be a trade show showing a family of five cooking on a Hotpoint super electric range that featured adjustable electric heat. The unit contained four burners with three of them having heat control. The power cost was just $20 a month.  Another ad dated 1915 showed the cost had dropped to $12 per month for average family cooking.”

Between 1912 and 1945, Johnson City was supplied with hydroelectric light and power by the Tennessee Eastern Electric Company, located 42 miles from the city on the Nolachucky River with a local office situated at 100 N. Roan. The plant had a capacity of 5,000 kilowatts produced by two units. The company also maintained an 1100-kilowatt steam reserve plant in the city.

Power consumption rates were based on a graduated usage scale of eight, seven and six cents per kilowatt-hour. Manufacturing plants were given a sizable cost advantage with charges as low as three-fourths of a cent per kilowatt-hour when purchased in specified quantities.

Prior to 1930, a large water wheel costing $1500 supplied electricity to three farmers on Knob Creek Road offering each family a minimum charge of $6 per month for lighting that produced little more visibility than the old traditional old kerosene lamps.

For many years, city residents, but not those dwelling in rural areas, enjoyed the advantages of electrical service. The latter did not have the conveniences afforded them, thus they labored much in the same manner as their forebears, rising in the morning with the roosters and retiring at night with the chickens. Lighting for them came from kerosene lanterns and a stove fueled by wood or coal.

The scenario changed dramatically in May 1935 when President Roosevelt signed an executive order creating the Rural Electrification Administration, aimed at bringing electric power to rural America. Getting power lines to these outlying houses took time. Anxious customers watched progress as poles edged closer to their farms with each passing day until that joyous occasion when a power connection could be made.

In 1945, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the Tennessee Eastern Electric Company. Johnson City then organized its own electric company known as the Johnson City Power Board and purchased power from TVA.

Today, a drive to a higher elevation in Johnson City at night dazzlingly and luminously reveals how technology has advanced significantly in the past 121 years since that light bulb lit up on a summer night at Jobe’s Livery Stable. 

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York Trivette, a lifelong resident of Johnson City, has something priceless in his possession – an 8”x10” mildly colorized glossy photo made in 1942 that reveals a large clock from Hart’s Jewelers, a business that opened in 1923.

According to York, Mr. H.E. Hart devised a clever advertising promotion for several years during the 1930s and 1940s. His store was located at 214 E. Main, sandwiched between Peoples Drug Store and Goldstein’s Clothing Store.

Mr. Hart ingeniously made use of one of his store clocks by covering the face of it, except for the hands, with a 50” diameter circular piece of thick white cardboard that contained a small hole in the center for the stem. He then superimposed on it a 30” diameter round photo of the face of a clock that appeared to have been used as a cigarette ad. Perched on the long hand of the clock photo, the man was offering the lady, straddling the short one, a cigarette.


Surrounding the photograph were two circles displaying bust photos of the 178 members of the JCHS (Johnson City High School) graduating class of 1942. The 108 girls’ pictures on the outside ring surrounded the 70 boys’ photos on the inside. Mr. Hart even placed his mug shot with the words “Compliments, H.E. Hart” at the bottom just below the “6” on the clock. Completing this project was likely a daunting and time-consuming task.

York further noted that the senior class was divided into two parts; the 12B graduates received their diplomas in December while the 12A ones obtained theirs in May. The clock campaign was separately aimed at both groups.

About five to six weeks before graduation, the storeowner wound the immense timepiece and carefully placed it in his front store window, filling all available space. York was not sure what made the clock run, but alleged it had a windup mechanism. He emphasized that it was not a grandfather clock.

The jewelry store’s goal was to attract students, families, friends, townspeople and other interested parties to stop by the business frequently to observe if the clock was still ticking. The ultimate intent was for customers to come in and buy something. When the device finally stopped running just days before graduation, two fortunate students were rewarded a wristwatch.

When the 1942 clock stopped running at 4:33, the long hand pointed to Betty Jean Simmons and the small one to Bernie Andrews. She received a Tavannes watch and he accepted a Longines one. If the short hand had moved clockwise 20 more people (about 4.5 hours), York Trivette would have been declared a winner. He explained that getting a top-of-the-line watch in those days was pretty exciting for a young high school student. Also, it was a big deal then to get to go to downtown Johnson City.

“About 80-90% of the boys on that 1941-42 clock went into the military soon after graduation,” said York. “Several months after I received my diploma, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps;some of my classmates went into service before I did.

“One classmate, Jim Tomblin, distinguished himself in the Air Force, earning several medals. He later spent quite some time in a prisoner of war camp. Because of the war effort, I do not think the clock promotion was done for the 1942-43 school year.” 

The witty advertising campaign’s well-known and much anticipated clock contest eventually wound down and stopped, becoming another entry in the city’s business history. After Hart’s Jewelers closed sometime between 1965 and 1970, Zale’s Jewelers took over that location. Let me hear from you if you remember this unique campaign. 

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In a previous column, I reviewed an April 7, 1960 edition of “Tri-Cities Shopping News & TV Guide” that featured an article about the early history of the city. Page 2 contained a column titled, “Norton’s Notions.” As I read it, I began to realize the writer was the well-known businessman of the city’s past – J. Norton Arney.


1939 (top) and 1950 Advertisements

The colorful car dealer noted that in the spring of 1924 he was employed as a salesman for Kyle Auto Sales (Paige, Jewett, Oakland dealer) located on Market Street at Montgomery. Shortly thereafter, Oakland Motor Company came out with a new automobile bearing the name Pontiac. Arney helped unload the first shipment of new cars and sold the first one.

The car was “fully equipped” with a spare tire and two bumpers and sold for $895. There was no tax, no title and not even a bill of sale to reckon with. You bought it and then drove it home. The dealership graciously put five gallons of $.48/gallon gas in the tank.

Mr. Arney related how different cars were back then: “In those days, owners never complained about their cars if they would run at all. If it would go halfway up Roan Hill in high (gear), she was a good ‘en. If she’d do 48 (miles/hour) wide open on level ground, she was a fast baby. If it would run a year without a complete overhaul, she was tops in quality. If all the screws in the old wooden body didn’t come out in six months, she was well constructed.

“If you hit a chug hole at 20 mph and could still hold on to the steering wheel, she rode like a cradle. If you could make a 25-degree curve at 10 mph and not turn over, she was well balanced and steered good. If you could go from Johnson City to Jonesboro and back without a flat tire, you had a real set of tires. If you could go to Roan Mountain without adding water more than three times, you had an automobile with a cooling system second to none.”

“When Oakland Motors came out with the Pontiac, they had just such a car and I was a proud young salesman for having the opportunity to offer that kind of an automobile to the buying public. We had plenty of competition then. In the lower price field, we had Ford and Chevrolet to contend with. In our price field, we had Essex, Durant and Overland. All dealers were aggressive and hard workers.”

Arney said he gathered copious literature so as to be well informed about his and his competition’s product. He read salesmen’s bulletins the factory published and studied the mechanism of the cars in order to answer any questions a prospective buyer might ask him. He knew all the weak points in the competitors’ automobiles and was able to convince people that his was worth a little extra money to get a better product. He made quality an important issue to mull over along with price.

J. Norton praised Bill Kyle as being a wonderful salesman, good businessman, very honest and a fine fellow, but he said that without question, he was the toughest boss any young salesman could ever have. After five years of employment with Kyle Auto Sales, Arney was offered and accepted a sales manager’s position with Preston Motor Company, his competition making twice what he was earning.

When Arney Motors came into being, the businessman adopted the slogan, “A Square Deal or No Deal.” I recall the time when a customer purchased a car from his dealership and became disgruntled over the transaction. The buyer capitalized on the business’s famous tag line by driving around town with a large sign attached to his car proclaiming, “Arney Got the Square deal and I Got the No Deal.” J. Norton Arney stands tall in Johnson City business history.  

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The “Tri-Cities Shopping News and TV-Guide,” a 16-page weekly publication, was published every Thursday and sold for a nickel. The staff included M.S. Lusk (co-owner), Harlan P. Milhorn (co-owner/general manager) and Douglas J. Ingells (editor/publisher).

The bold headline for April 7, 1960 boldly proclaimed, “City Granted Charter 75 Years Ago.” The diamond anniversary article titled “A Day to Remember, comprised two pages and referred to Mar. 25, 1885.

Although Johnson City received its first charter on Dec. 1, 1869, it was later rescinded only to have another one granted in early 1885. The diamond anniversary referred to the second charter. The city elected a mayor, four aldermen and a magistrate, which was accomplished on the fourth Wednesday in March of that year. Henry Johnson became the first mayor.

The remainder of the newspaper contained numerous advertisements, a TV guide, a crossword puzzle and a column titled “Norton’s Notions,” written by area businessman, J. Norton Arney, offering a unique and hilarious glimpse of the automobile trade in the 1920s. I will feature it in next week’s column.

Five television station schedules were listed: WJHL-11 (Johnson City), WCYB-5 (Bristol), WBTV-3 (Charlotte), WLOS-13 (Asheville) and WATE-6 (Knoxville). The programming for WJHL brought back many memories for me. The “Little Rascals” came on at 5:00 followed by “Rocky and His Friends (Tue. & Thur.), “Rin Tin Tin” (Mon. & Fri.) and “My Friend Flicka (Wed.).

The lonely housewives had their fair share of soap operas to weep over: “Love of Life,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” “Young Doctor Malone,” “Brighter Day,” “Secret Storm” and “The Edge of Night.”

My favorite program from that era was Arthur Smith and His Crackerjacks that came on over WBTV each Thursday at 7:00. It featured a half-hour of homespun country/western, bluegrass and gospel music at its best. The Crossroads Quartet always concluded each show.

The local movie theatres offered their fare – Sevier: “Suddenly Last Summer” (Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katherine Hepburn), Majestic: “Home from the Hills” (Robert Mitchum and Eleanor Parker), Tennessee: “The Young Land” (Patrick Wayne and Yvonne Craig) and The Skyline Drive-In: “For the First Time” (Mario Lanzo and Zsa Zsa Gabor).

The Sutz-U Food Market at the corner of Maple and Buffalo Street purchased a half-page ad with several items listed: Hormel Can Hams, $2.69 for a 3-lb. size; fresh lean loin end pork chops, $.43/lb.; Armour’s Oleo, seven lbs.; half-gallon ice milk for $.49 (with coupon); and two loaves of Baker’s Bread for a quarter. 

Other advertisement included the Restaurant Village of the John Sevier Hotel, Fields Department Store (104-06 E. Main),” Mullins (Jonesborough Highway), Leach Motor Company (111 Ash, Willys Jeep), Harrison’s Jewelers (203 E. Main), Nance Lanes (401 E. Main), Market Street Furniture Co. (130 W. Market), Huntsman Television Cable Co. (407 W. Walnut offering five stations for $25 and your old antenna) Scarlett Lincoln/Mercury Sales (Kingsport-Bristol Blvd.), Doyle Tire Service (502 W. Market), Carder Hardware (132 W. Market) and Anderson Realty Co. (100 W. Holston at Roan).

The most humorous ad in the Shopping News was by Johnson City Beauty Shop (101.5 Buffalo) proclaiming, “Ladies, Our Hair Color Specialists Invite You to Come in and Get a New Hair Color to Match Your Easter Outfit.”  

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One piece of exciting news in 1912 was the opening of Jones-Vance Drug Company at 121 Buffalo at Tipton. There were just four doctors in town then – Dr. Elmore Estes, Dr. J.H. Johnson, Dr. W.G. Matthews and Dr. J.H. Preas.

Owners H. Raymond Jones and T. Beauregard Vance took over the site formerly occupied by the Abraham Heller Cigar Shop. This was in the era of Model T cars, brick streets and trolley cars. Jones had ten sons and over the years employed them as they became old enough to work.

A 1915 Chamber of Commerce booklet described the business as “a beautifully fitted up store, which reflects credit alike to the city as well as to the proprietors.” The publication further stated, “It may be said that there is no branch of business, which, for its successful operation, calls for such a high standard of character, combined with sound knowledge and ripe experience, as the modern drug business. This store is thoroughly stocked throughout with every variety of drugs, sundries, medicines, toilet articles, perfumes, cigars and all other such articles usually found in first class enterprises of this character.”

In 1969, the late Dorothy Hamill, former Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, interviewed Lloyd Jones, the only surviving son. He noted that although his family’s trade changed hands several times during its 68-year operation, it always carried the original name. His store duties included helping prepare medicine, working at the soda fountain and dispensing a wide variety of patent medicines. Jones recalled that the hours of operation were from about six a.m. until nine p.m., seven days a week.

On the left side of the store as you entered was a counter that displayed boxes of candy, stationery, chewing tobacco, cameras, perfume, postcards, cosmetics and the like. On the right side was a beautiful soda fountain fabricated of marble and onyx. “There wasn’t any refrigeration then,” Jones said, “We kept the ice cream in ice and rock salt and made our own chocolate syrup. Customers could buy chocolate milk for five cents. It consisted of ice cream, chocolate syrup and milk, all mashed up together. You could get a banana split for ten cents. At the end of the fountain was one of those decorated china lamps that looked like stained glass.”

Lloyd indicated that fountain customers were served at one of three round wrought iron tables at the far end of the store. Notably absent were counter stools, considered to be out-of-place for a quality drug store. Ironically, not considered rudimentary was a brass spittoon (or cuspidor) sitting on the floor just inside the door to the right, adjacent to the soda fountain counter.

Air conditioning consisted of an overhead fan for summer months and a coal burning stove in the back during cold weather. Hot pipes from the stove ran under the ceiling and had to be cleaned periodically. The remedy was to wrap sulphur and nitrate of soda together and burn them in the stove to eliminate the residue in the pipes.

Getting a license then meant serving as an apprentice to another druggist for a prescribed period of time. Medicines were prepared in a back room by the pharmacist. He charged 50 cents to fill a prescription plus the price of the drugs. If people wanted pills, the attendant would mix and grind the powders and place them in capsules or small paper folders. The store’s original mortar and pestle were eventually donated to ETSU’s Reece Museum.

Jones-Vance made some of its own remedies such as tincture of iron and iodine, a cough medicine containing mostly honey and laudanum (opium), a blood tonic called IQS (iron, quinine and strychnine), a liniment rub comprised of mostly grease and cayenne peppers and another tonic known as VVP (vim, vigor and pep). The drug store also sold several patent medicines such as Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound and Cardui, “The Woman’s Tonic.”

The close proximity of the business to the railroad resulted in customers arriving in Johnson City by train from Virginia and North Carolina and patronizing the store, often bringing with them orders from the train conductors. These would be filled and taken back to the depot the same day.

Hungry customers desiring more than fountain fare usually went across the street to the Buffalo Café that was operated by an older lady. The eatery’s placard consisted of a single board containing the menu. In addition to short order items, regular dinners cost 35 cents and Sunday ones sold for 50 cents.

City directories reveal that Jones-Vance moved to 110 E. Main between 1928 and 1935 on the site formerly occupied by Gump’s clothing emporium (downstairs) and Jobe’s Opera House (upstairs) and later the Tennessee National Bank.

While few residents can remember the Buffalo Street store, many can recall the impressive Main Street one. The business remained in that location until its demise in 1960.  

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The late Tom Hodge of the Johnson City Press introduced his readers to early businessman, Fred Hoss, numerous times over the years. Fred wrote an article for the Johnson City Chronicle on Sunday, May 21, 1922 titled “Henry Johnson Realized His Dream.” Since the city founder married Mary Ann Hoss, daughter of John Hoss, perhaps Fred was a descendant of that early family.

An advertisement in a 1913 City Directory shows “Hoss & Hoss, Shorthand Reporters; Specialists, Law and General Reporting, Stenography and Typewriting; 15 years experience. Additionally, the business is listed in the Business Directory under “Shorthand Reporters.”

Another ad from that directory reads “Fred Wesley Hoss; Eight Songs, Four With Words and Four Without; located in the Burrow Building at 240.5 E. Main.” Oldsters will identify the address as being the Nettie Lee Ladies Shop.

A 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication classifies the business as “Shorthand Reporter, Stenographic Artist” saying, “Mr. Hoss is a young man, a native of East Tennessee, of good standing and enjoying the most enviable reputation in his line of work throughout East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia. He has been engaged in stenographic work for 17 years, becoming a member of the International Shorthand Reporters’ Association in 1904.”

In a 1986 article, Tom Hodge made some comments about Fred: “You’ve got to be an older Johnson Citian to know about Fred W. Hoss. He died in the early 1950s after a long life in Johnson City in which he served, among other things, as newspaper reporter, editor and historian.” When Tom started working at the Johnson City Press-Chronicle as a nightside sportswriter, “Pappy” Hoss, as he was known, was night editor. He ruled the newsroom from his desk, sitting there erect wearing a bowtie. Everything on his desk was neatly arranged  – pencils, rulers, scissors, paste pot and stacks of state, national and international printouts taken from the clacking Teletype machine.

At the annual newspaper Christmas party, “Pappy” demonstrated his mastery of the piano by playing a variety of diverse compositions. Frank Tannewitz once brought Tom a songbook that he had purchased from Henry Frick at the Music Mart. It was one with eight songs, four with words and four without, published in 1912 by Hoss and Hoss and copyrighted by Fred Wesley Hoss.

The instrumentals were “The Victor’s Return,” “Dream Song,” “Bridal Song” and “December Morning.” The vocals were “The Memory Rose,” “The Year and You,” “My Fairy” and “Crossing the Bar” (solo and male quartet). “Pappy” dedicated each selection to a different person. Tom’s wife served as a critic, playing the eight pieces and offering an objective and favorable evaluation of them.”

The Press had a Coke machine in the newsroom that accepted only nickels. If someone needed a nickel, “Pappy” would make change for them by charging them a dime and a penny in exchanged for two nickels. The staff reciprocated the favor by assessing Fred a fee for special favors. On a cold night, “Pappy” would ask someone to fetch his LaSalle car that was parked a block away. That person subsequently charged him a penny for the service.

Hoss had the curious habit of shutting down the front page of the upcoming morning paper around 9:00 at night and it took an earth-shaking news event to convince him to revise the page after that hour.

 “You just don’t find “Pappy” Hosses in our business anymore,” said Hodge. “When he died, Johnson City lost not only a fine old-fashioned newspaperman but also one of the city’s top historians, too.” The same can be said of Tom Hodge. 

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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.  

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