ORLAND BRITNELL: Remembering falling in love and managing James Department Store
“I came out of the service in 1960, and a friend of mine that worked with me at Clark’s Department Store before I went to Michigan, Ralph Wells – he never called me by my name, Orland; he called me Roland. He said “Roland, you aren’t never going to amount to a damn thing if you don’t get you a good woman.” We walked down the block to H.B. White’s 5&10 Cent Store, and there stood my wife-to-be. She had no idea what was happening. We walked in and he said, ‘Gracie, this is Roland. Roland, this is Gracie. I guess y’all can figure out the rest of it.’ Ralph Wells really did me a favor, introducing me to Grace Ann. I always told Ralph how much I appreciated that.
“I had sold my car before I went in the Army. I had the prettiest car – a ’55 pink and white Crown Victoria Ford, Tropical Rose. When I got out of the Army, I bought a new Chevrolet, and Grace and I dated in that Chevrolet. We never went to bars and honky-tonks and that kind of stuff. I always took her somewhere her parents wouldn’t be ashamed of. We’d go eat – went to a lot of places we’d like to go to together, and we’d go with other couples – and there’d be square dances on Friday and Saturday nights in Haleyville and Russellville, and you’d meet a lot of good people there.
“We were on date, and I had the ring in my car, and I pulled it out and gave it to her, and she said yes. She was tickled. I think she was kind of expecting it, so she said yes, and we’ve been married 54 years.”
“James Department Store was down the street from Clark’s Department Store. Their sister Laura James had the store for many, many years when she was single, but she met a man and married him, and that left the two brothers owning the store. Things weren’t going good, and they were looking for somebody. They were dissatisfied with their present manager – he wasn’t a good manager. So they were looking for somebody.
“Mother found out about it, so Mother set up the deal that they would talk to me. I got a 30-day absence from my job in Michigan and worked 30 days, and they hired me. I went back to Michigan, quit my job there and came back home. I was doing a good job, and they were happy, and everything was fine. I stayed with them for 12 years.
“It was great. I had about six or seven full time employees. It was a two-story building, and we had a balcony at the top. They let me spend a lot of money and remodel the store – completely remodel it. I closed on Friday and stayed closed the whole week and reopened the following Monday, and it was all new and really had a different look about it. We had the look of the ’30s and ’40s, and we need to get modernistic. We put in new counters and new fixtures – we wanted to look new and modern, and we did. People would come in and say, ‘Sorry, I’m in the wrong store.’ It was virtually new – the ceilings, the walls, everything. We added merchandise, and we really did good.
“My only brother had worked there with me, and we probably would have bought the store one day, but he was coming to work one morning and had an automobile accident and was killed. Mine and his dream was running the store together. I stayed on, but I knew the store could not generate the money I really wanted.
“I saw the handwriting on the wall. You can only generate so much money in a store. I just saw that I had a better chance at doing something else, and that’s what I did – went into the mobile home business and then the banking business, as branch manager at Citizens Bank and then Community Spirit Bank, and that’s where I retired.”