Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Family Business

Posted February 27, 2008

What are your favorite and interesting family business stories? Did you work for a family owned company? What was your starting salary? What were your responsibilities?

My parents ran The Book Store in Morganton. The name was inadequate. Yes, we did sell books but a whole lot more. We should have called it The Wedding Store. We sold more wedding gifts and office supplies than anyone in town. We also carried greeting cards. Plus, we framed pictures, engraved Bibles and prayer books. We sold art supplies, school supplies, fine pens and and those cool View Masters.

The Book Store’s most famous employee was a dog. Our family lab mix Sputnik would walk to work every day and lie down under the card table next to the Parker Pen display and wag his tail every time a customer would come through the door. Sputnik was generously compensated with biscuits and bones. I preferred cold hard cash. At age 10 my starting salary was 45 cents an hour for sweeping the floors, going to the post office and taking out the trash. My salary mushroomed to 2.00 an hour after I mastered the skills of picture framing.

My father was a terrific salesman. He conducted dramatic demonstrations on the virtually unbreakable qualities of a new line of china. Once he dropped an entire box of expensive china on the floor. Not a chip. Not a crack. Yes, he got the sale.

My mother was beloved in the community for her warmth and easy going attitude at the Book Store. She was great about greeting customers and sharing the latest news in town. The Book Store was THE place to go for information. Her only gripe was customers putting greeting cards back in the wrong slot.

I loved snowy mornings in Morganton when schools cancelled classes. I would walk one mile from home to the store with my father and help him sweep the snow off the awning. He would reward me with a Mr. Goodbar.

What about you? Please share your family business stories.


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  • fishnett5977 Feb 29, 2008

    My great Uncle Otha ran a small store just as you go into Coats on Hwy 55. I remember going there as a kid with my Grandpa Stewart(he and Otha were kin) and seeing my Grandpa's brother Roger and Carlie there. My brother and I could talk my Grandpa out of anything and before long we would have a couple of quarters each. We would put in a nickle in the gumball machine and hope for a "speckle" ball - it was worth 50 cents! And a lot of the time both my brother and me would get one! And the we would use the money and get a small paper sack FULL of penny candy! What's that you say, what's penny candy???? Something from time past - and a great memory! :)

  • thefensk Feb 28, 2008

    Years ago I worked for a mom & pop convenience store in southern Orange County. The store had been there forever and had a comfortable feel. One boon to their business was that they cashed personal checks from people they knew. A lot of customers felt a friendship and kinship to the owners and would often invoke their name to get special favors.

    Eventually, they were bought out by a big company. Of course one of the first thing to go was the check cashing. About four months after the change in management a woman came into the store in a terrible rush, wanting to cash a check. I had a good memory for regular customers but had no recollection of this woman. I politely told her I couldn't cash her check.

    "What? Well I am a PERSONAL friend of the (previous owners)!" she said in a huff.

    "Really? They must have somehow forgotten to tell you they sold the store several months ago," I said, adding, "The new owners no longer cash personal checks."

  • polann Feb 28, 2008

    It's not surprising that our first paid jobs were with a family business--interesting to read about these memories and experiences. My first "real" job was in the circulation department of The State Magazine. My father, Bill Sharpe, was the editor/publisher during the '50's (he bought the mag from Carl Goerch, founder). The offices were located in downtown Raleigh on one of the top floors of the old building that housed the State Theatre, only place in there that was airconditioned. My job was to keep the subscribers' CARD file updated--I used either a pencil or non-electric typewriter. I also helped with some page mockups and answered the phone. I remember especially the heat in summer and the ladies who also worked there and gave me good advice for future work.

  • Baseball Nut Feb 27, 2008

    My first paying job was at the ripe old age of 9 working for my best friend's dad in the tobbacco fields. Usually just before Memorial Day, Mr. Richardson would make an announcement in church on Sunday morning that he was looking for summer help and if anyone was interested to give him a call. All the kids in my neighborhood worked for Mr. Richardson every summer. It was hard work but we didn't realize it because we were having fun with our friends. I'm not sure what my hourly wage was because when Mr Richardson brought me home on Friday afternoon, he came to the door and handed my pay check to my Mom. Mom would then deposit it into my savings acount and give me a few dollars of mad money. Those were the good old days.

  • sisterpanther Feb 27, 2008

    My Dad owned and ran a service station on the corner of Smithwick and Main in Williamston for several years. My brother and I both pretty much grew up there at the station, known as Jack's Service Center. We'd have everyone from the mayor, town and county officials, police, sheriff, fire and rescue, other business owners, to neighborhood kids as our regular customers. Several of the men who would come in for a Coke and peanuts would have a contest to see whose glass Coke bottle was made the furthest away (the location on the bottom of the bottle). As I recall, the furthest away, his drink was paid for by the others. One winter we had enough snow that I made a snowman right on the corner of the lot. When I was little, a lot of times I'd curl up in the space under the cash register and read or sleep, and most folks wouldn't even know I was there. For a while I would know who was there by the shoes I saw. To this day, there are folks who know my Mom as "Mrs. Jack".

  • bleslie Feb 27, 2008

    Thanks for the tip on Brock's Grill. I'll put that on my travel list luvtoshag.

  • luvtoshag Feb 27, 2008

    I want to work at The Book Store. Sounds like a great place and what wonderful memories.

    There is a great family business in Spivey's Corner called Brock's Grill. They serve homemade breakfast and lunch. A group of men claim the back table to gossip every day at breakfast and lunch. All the locals come by to see what Connie and Ms. Brock have to eat. They have the best homemade cakes, banana pudding and cobblers for dessert. Wished they were open on Saturday but everyone needs a day off. If you every go through stop and say hey. They are some of the nicest people you will meet.

  • happy Feb 27, 2008

    My parents ran a mom and pop grocery store when I was small. It was complete with a full meat dept and out on the front porch were bins of fresh veggies and fruits. I was too young to work in the store but every Saturday a.m., my father would wake me before dawn and I'd hurriedly get dressed so that I could go on a produce run with him. We went to the farmer's market and picked up watermelons, cantelope...anything that was in season. Other times we would go to the local fish market and pick up fresh fish to sell in the store. So many memories...can't even begin to start with them here.

  • dejrfan Feb 27, 2008

    It wasn't a family business, but a very good friend of my father owned a country store about a half mile from our house. I would love to go on Saturday's to what we called Porter's Store and help Mr. Porter stock shelves. He would let me put the prices on the cans and put them on the shelf. I was usually rewarded with an ice cold Coca-Cola in the glass bottle. They were stored in the chest type coolers with the sliding lids and were always ice cold. There is not much that is better than an ice cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. Some times if he had several items to stock not only did I get the drink but some gum or a candy bar.

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Bill Leslie