On June 20, 1959, Sadie Morrison bought two linoleum rugs from Jackson Furniture Co., one for her front room and another for the kitchen. Before she left, Morrison agreed to pay $4 a month to a bill collector who would stop by her front door at the nearby Whitgreen Apartments.
A half-century later, Morrison's name and the particulars of her purchase can be found in a stack of faded note cards deep inside the store on Rock Hill's East Main Street. Thousands of sales are handwritten on these cards, creating a time capsule that tells the story of Billy Jackson's life.
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Much like Jackson these days, the cards don't move as fast as they used to.
Jackson Furniture will close on Sept. 13, adding its name to the list of family-owned businesses that thrived in Rock Hill before people could drive to Wal-Mart or Carolina Place Mall to search for better deals.
Tough economy, more competition
"If the economy was going full-blast, I'd still like to stay down here," Jackson, 54, said Wednesday afternoon, between visits from a handful of customers. "It's a good time for me financially to go ahead and get out. I'm proud that we made it this long."
In the evenings after work, Jackson would write thank-you notes to every customer who bought something. Even those who didn't buy walked out with complimentary red, white and blue ink pens.
Over the past few weeks, Jackson has delivered the news to one customer at a time. Barbara Jennings thought he was joking at first. "You can't retire," she told him.
"I say I've got my 25 years in," Jackson replied. "I've got my two kids out of college. And my wife says she's ready for me to quit working before I have a heart attack."
Introduced to the visitor interviewing Jackson, Jennings made a request: "You be sure and say we're going to miss him."
Running the family business
Jackson was 5 when his father, William Jr., opened on Chatham Avenue in a row of businesses that once stood across from the Cotton Factory. When the city razed the building to put in Dave Lyle Boulevard in the late 1960s, Jackson Furniture moved to its permanent home on East Main Street.
It hasn't changed much. The main showroom is filled with rows of wooden dressers, couches and cloth recliners. A wall clock dings every half-hour. Boxes of Crock-Pots and Ginsu knive sets line the shelves. The wide selection evokes the days when pretty much everything needed in a home could be found at the local furniture store.
Customers could sign up for cash-and-carry plans, paying as little as $4 a month if that's what it took.
This is where Nora Bell Jamison came when one of her seven children broke a kitchen chair or tore up a sofa. Her children have long since moved away, but Jamison hasn't stopped buying furniture.
Asked where else she would go, Jamison didn't have an answer. "Haven't figured that out," she said. "Guess I'll have to do without. Nobody's gonna treat me like he does."
After Jackson graduated from The Citadel in 1976, he went to work at South Carolina National Bank for six years before getting a job offer he couldn't turn down. "My dad was ready to retire," Jackson recalled. "I said, 'Well, let me come down here and run this thing.'"
Jackson Jr. is 84 now and has Alzheimer's, though his wife, Elaine, drops him off at the store a few times a week to greet customers.
Someone else could rent the property and keep the store running, but Jackson doesn't expect the next tenant to do that. Before he could think about it much more, a customer walked in.
"My old lady wants another chair," the man said, plopping down in a brown leather recliner. "I told her we'd get it after Christmas."
Jackson shook his head. Another customer got the news: For the first time in 50 years, he'll have to buy his furniture somewhere else.