Avent and Thomas owner announces end of business
One of Lee County's most established businesses is likely closing for good after this holiday season.
Avent and Thomas, a clothing store in downtown Jonesboro, is shutting down after first opening its doors in 1928. Owner Lynwood Jones plans to retire and says unless someone approaches him about wanting to take over the business, he will run sales from now until the end of the year, or until all the merchandise is gone.
"I try to stay positive all the time, but it can be hard sometimes with all these big box retailers," Jones said, although he added he's glad to be doing it on his own terms. "I've worked hard at this for 40 years. I'm retiring and am going out without begrudging anything."
Jones, 62, started working at the store when he was 16. He took some time off to go to college and work a short-lived job in state government before returning to Sanford in 1977 when he got married and went back to working at the store. He bought the store more than a decade ago, in June of 2000, from Glenn and Evelyn York, who had themselves bought it from founders Ben Avent Jr. and L.L. Thomas in the 1960s.
Jones said it was a tough decision, but with nearby stores chipping away at his customers, it was time. Walmart, Dunham's Sporting Goods, CATO Fashions, Kmart, and several thrift stores and dollar stores all have locations within two miles of his store at 124 E. Main St.
Jones said many of his most faithful — and lucrative — customers were women, but female shoppers in general have gradually left neighborhood clothiers like his store behind for the cheap prices of big box stores or the experience of going to the mall. Avent and Thomas, in downtown Jonesboro, can't compete with the atmosphere of a mall, and Jones said he couldn't match big box prices without sacrificing quality, which he wouldn't do.
However, he said the biggest group of customers the closing will likely affect are those who have come to rely on its big and tall selection, which Jones said is unmatched in the area.
"There's not many places a guy who's a 6X [shirt size] or [has a] 60-inch waist can come in and find clothes."
Gary Jackson, a longtime Lee County educator and a golfing partner with Jones, said he's one of those who will miss the store's wide range of sizes.
"When I get clothes, this is the first place I come to," Jackson said. "... I'm kind of a hard person to fit, and he always has something to fit me. And if he doesn't have it, he'll order it, but that's very rare."
Jackson said he was surprised when he heard the store would be closing — and he said now he'll have to make a shopping run to stock up on clothes in his hard-to-find size.
"I mean, Avent and Thomas has been there so long, such a stable part of the community," Jackson said. "I was taken aback when he told me. I hate to see him go, but I understand that business is business and you've got to do what you've got to do."
Bob Joyce, another longtime friend of Jones's and the president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was equally surprised when he heard the news and called it a sad sign of the times.
"One of the consequences of becoming a larger community is more competition for scare consumer dollars, especially in this economy," Joyce said. "It is unfortunate that stores like Avent and Thomas are having such a difficult times in this downturn in the economy, and one of the things we will miss as a community is the personal service beyond just good customer service."
Joyce said that for many — maybe even most — of the people who went to Avent and Thomas, Jones knew their sizes without even having to measure them, and he'd also know what size their spouse or parents wore, which Joyce said made picking out presents a breeze. He also said another group who will miss Jones' discerning eye are high school boys during prom season. Jones said he will, too.
"I'm going to miss that," he said of the tuxedo business he started on the side about 15 years ago. "Especially in the spring, helping the kids. We serve about 16 different schools."
However, Jones said that even as tux rentals have been booming, sales during the holidays — which used to constitute a big part of his bottom line — have been slowly drying up as more people turn to larger stores or even online shopping. Joyce, too, said the Internet is taking a lot of business from merchants big and small, but especially the smaller ones.
And when those businesses leave, Joyce said, everyone loses.
"I think we've gotten in such a hurry as a community that we don't often slow down and enjoy those human interactions as we used to."