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The Time I Spent as "The Prisoner of Elmore's"

Kenneth does have a passive attitude toward certain issues in life, but not with sexual harassment and bullying. I can't let these areas go.

This 1937 photo shows the V.J Elmore store in Jasper, AL.

This 1937 photo shows the V.J Elmore store in Jasper, AL.

(sNote: this personal narrative contains the name, Elmore's, which had a store in my hometown, Hamilton, Ala. This retail business was among the first stores that I called on each week to service their Display Advertising needs for my employer: The Journal Record newspaper, which I started my employment with this fine paper in Sept. 1975. The newspaper is still there. And publishes a Wednesday and Saturday editon. Sadly, Elmore's became a victim of the "beast": Big Business Competiton. I wrote this just so my HubPages editors would not flag me for publishing Spammy Elements on my work. Like I said, V.J. Elmore (stores) do NOT exist anymore. (Kenneth).

A tidbit of history: V.J. Elmore Company, Mr. Virgil Jackson Elmore, an humble guy and founder of the V. J. Elmore Company, was a native Alabamian. He was a farm boy, born near Gordo, Ala., in 1887. Zooming forward to Nov., 1925, Jackson opened his first variety store in Clanton, Ala., and continued to open additional stores until, at the time of his death in 1942, there were 44 stores in operation. I don't like sad endings. I do not make any bones or tears-and-sobbing apologies for this fact.

Unless, (and now please, I welcome you to get inside of my shoes), you walked a few excited miles when I came from a factory-oriented employment base in Hamilton, Ala., and with much ambition running in my head, into the Elmore's store, located at the then-Hamilton Square Shopping Center, you do not know what torment and being ill-at-ease is. Sad, isn't it, for someone who is new at a job, but a great job? Not really. And take my word. This narrative gets worse.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Good News: when you went through the glass doors, a disarming aroma from roasting cashews in a tidy little machine in the front bombarded your nostrils to the point of instantly forgetting what you came into this store to begin with. And this is God's own truth. Sometimes, the Elmore's management played a clever shell-game of offering fresh, buttery popcorn popping in the same store-issued, tidy little machine near the same place where the tasty cashews stood. I give the store management credit. They knew how to lure the sidewalk traffic inside and then they kept the customer munching on popcorn or cashews and spending more money on their somewhat average amount of inventory.

This is not, repeat NOT, a Elmore Store Review, so I am not going to post a few Gold Stars at the bottom. I do not speak with a forked tongue, pale faces. The great scent that filled this store notwithstanding, had a very conventional manager: Mr. Verlon Davis, an humble man in the same pattern and fabric as the store founder: Mr. Virgil Jackson, also a very conservative man. I didn't point a finger of judgment at him, so let's chill.

Upon my initial meeting with Mr. Davis, he instantly reminded me of Andy Griffith Show staple: Don Knotts, a frail, pale, and edgy man. His store wardrobe was very low-key--Hushpuppies on his feet (nod to Jimmy Buffett, "Come Monday,"--"I got my Hushpuppies on"), an off-blue shirt, dark blue slacks and thick, black horn rim glasses with a plastic pen and pencil holder in his left shirt. Okay. You are thinking it--I might as well say it: Davis could have easily been a walk-on for the first film, "Revenge of The Nerds," now a Cult Classic. If Mr. Davis had only known.

Davis, trying to remember his Store Manager Training, was faring well and a bit intimidating when I said, "Hello, my name is Kenneth Avery. I'm from the Journal Record and I wanted to check and see if you were going to have a Display Ad for me this week." Davis looked stunned. Looked from side-to-side. Then said, "Uhhh, give me 120 inches and pick up my store copy in the morning," Davis said, and I credit this guy, was certainly playing it by the book. And by the numbers. His face never changed from a stone-faced image of authority without being cold and snippy. I was quick to notice that he did not invite me to walk upstairs to have a complimentary cup of coffee with him. Bad move, Verlon. Strike one.

Somehow, and I mean this, I knew right off that Davis, Verlon, was the manager because he had a cheap, white plastic tag hanging on his left pocket with the words: STORE MANAGER and if that wasn't proof that he was in charge, nothing did. As the weeks went by, I guess that my heart did soften a bit for in those trying, tormented weeks of having to deal with him, I saw a few times that Davis himself would be the butt of slurs from the mouth of his Regional Manager, Mr. Bill Murner, not to be confused with Werner Von Braun, the German V2 missile genius who our Defense Dept., talked him into coming to our side and then something magical happened: The invention and eventual usage of the Saturn V Rocket used to catapult U.S. Space Shuttles--Columbia and Challenger. You really can't knock a man like Von Braun for single-handedly revamping our poor and misguided space program, can y

I'll get to Mr. Davis' number one store employee, (a) Mrs. Wiginton, who was a fierce, hungry Pit Bull on Quaalude's. But I will talk about her in a moment. Mr. Davis' main nemesis, besides his shadow, was this Mr. Bill Murner, the RM, (Regional Manager), and when I first met him, I drew the absolute conclusion that he was Satan loosed after the 1,000-year reign by Jesus on the New Earth.

I had, by my regular schedule, started calling on Mr. Davis at Elmore's first on my Call List for after all, Davis' Elmore's ad account was the second most important--Numero Dos besides the huge Foodway account which ran an inner-two page color food display ad which was affectionately-named a "Double Truck," and my boss and his boss kept reminding me just how all-fired important this account meant to my local paper and the sister paper located in a nearby town, Haleyville, Ala., the historical town that was put on the map for instituting THE overall-important and much-needed 9-1-1 Emergency Location Phone Service.

Pretend that now it is 9:30 a.m., on the Monday where you are walking at my side as we enter the glass doors to Elmore's. Yummmm! Smell those cashews roasting. The employees are working like beavers building a new dam. Must be time for Mr. Bill Murner's monthly chewing of Mr. Davis' butt. There his butt is now--see how low and pale it looks almost touching the tile floor?

" . . .Daaaa--VVVV--isssss!" Murner yelled in a stretched-out yell.

" . . .Yesss, sir, Mr. Murner!" Davis instantly replied almost crying.

" . . .I thought that I told you last week to get the new styrofoam coolers put on the floor--In THIS spot, Davis! Why aren't they here, Davis!" Murder growled. And I do not exaggerate. He growled just like a Marine D.I. (drill instructor) on the first few days of Boot Camp.

" . . .Sorry, sur! Errr, I will put someone right on it," Davis stuttered. "Uhhh, Mrs. Wiggg--innn-ton?!" he said in an obvious sing-sing tone.

Then as if Davis had rubbed Aladdin's Lamp, there appeared Mrs. Wiginton. Talk about great timing. She probably never knew it, but she saved the rest of Davis' blood-shot butt from being taken from its misery. But Davis, now with his needed-reprieve supplied by Mrs. Wiginton, he humbly carried on just like business as usual.

Before I go further, I need to elaborate on my term about Mrs. Wiginton being compared to being a hungry Pit Bull on Quaalude's. Honestly speaking, she had the look of one of Vincent van Gogh's peasants in his period paintings where all he saw was misery and depression on the faces of the townsfolk where he lived. Mrs. Wiginton although an excellent Elmore's employee, was one of the most hyper-active folks whom I had met thus far in my Display Ad Sales position with the local paper.

Sometimes my wife and I would shop with Elmore's and not just to show Mr. Davis that the local paper's employees were doing their part to keep his store in business and thriving day after day. And just like the run rising in the east, there she would be: Mrs. Wiginton appearing like a vapor, then scanning my shopping prowse (just looking at the items on the shelves) and then acting as if she were assigned in that area to do some work. Funny. She must have been assigned on every area of the store because on one occasion, and I admit, I was weary of being watched by a "Sneaker Shopper," and intentionally spent around ten minutes in each area of the store to see what she would do--and I can tell you factually, Mrs. Wiginton did not miss a beat. The Pit Bull in her must have kept her able to run faster, inspect shoppers better than any of the store's employees. And why she never won an Employee of The Month is still a mystery to me.

This Walking Third Degree by Mrs. Wiginton had grew old. Very old. For by now I had visited Elmore's second on my sales list each Monday of each week that came and she knew my first and last name as Mr. Davis did. So why the question: "And who are you?" she would always ask and I would really think that she was warming up to me by attempting to be funny, but oh, how wrong. And even when I was on the clock for the newspaper to get Mr. Davis' weekly ad copy, there she would be--eyes set, feet ready, for me be analyzed for doing nothing but shop for anything that the store might have on sale.

This song and dance went on for six months. This Monday ritual never changed. The same song and music never played anything new. I thought a lot about this one situation as I would leave Elmore's to talk to my other advertisers--and in their stores, their employees were all friendly, talkative and just glad to be working. I did think that maybe Elmore's had installed an "Anti-Shoplifting" training that was given to Mrs. Wiginton, Mr. Davis, and all Elmore's employees. Even the RM, Mr. Murner, when he was a lowly stock boy, I thought, had to endure such Nazi tactics to keep the American prisoners from escaping a P.O.W. camp.

I am completely serious. But if you have followed my adventures in the day when I was young, you will know that I try my best to include every aspect, every angle of my tales. Same principle applies to this narrative. There was, that although scarce moment when I did come by Elmore's on an afternoon, not in the morning, to give Mr. Davis something we in the paper game called "tear sheets," which are pages from the paper with an advertiser's ad on them so the advertiser, Mr. Davis, could mail them to his company headquarters to reimburse his store budget for doing some Co-Op Ad Program with our paper. It only sounds complicated.

And it was on "this" one visit to the store, that I did give the tear sheets to Davis and he gave me his always-low-toned "thank you" and went about his business and before I left the store, I wanted to check the Shoes Dept. to see if I could save some bucks on a pair of shoes that were more comfortable for I can attest to you that when you walk in slippers (and in your case, girls, high heels) the "dogs" (feet) can get mighty painful. So I strolled over to the Shoe Dept., but keeping a watchful eye for Mrs. Wiginton who might be tracking me for even looking like I was shoplifting shoes. I was as careful as a chain-smoker working in a Dynamite Factory.

Out of my sub-conscience, I couldn't help but look both ways before I picked up any shoes to see if I wanted them. What? No Mrs. Wiginton. I couldn't believe it. I managed to "just" look at the nicest pair of shoes ever and all without Mrs. Wiginton perched on my right shoulder. What did I tell you, friends? She was persistent. But I continued to look and compare shoes for the ensuing half-hour--and still, no, Mrs. Wiginton. No, if you are thinking it, I did not complain to Mrs. Davis about any of her fully-complying with whatever Anti-Shoplifting Training that she might have taken when she was hired.

In a day or so . . .my wondering about Mrs. Wiginton (and other things) were over. Including my time that I had served in the Elmore's P.O.W. Camp--and I have to testify, I was happy as any clam on any beach. The next Monday I made my regular visit to the store and Mrs. Wiginton took me to the office to introduce me to a NEW store manager. I was shocked. I really was. Let me explain it this way: If you are in a certain way of doing things over-and-over and things never change, you grow used to it. And when the things do change, you are shocked, then glad for a moment, but with a lot of questions why?

The "why" was Mr. Roy Hutton, the new Elmore's store manager. At first impression, he reminded me of a young Robert Keeshan aka/"Capt. Kangaroo," but without the moustache. Hutton was friendly, personable, and laid back for what I thought was a high-pressured store position. Could I have been wrong about Davis been a tough taskmaster? And Mrs. Wiginton being working in his shoes?

No. Turns out that Mr. Davis was transferred to another Elmore's in another town: Russellville, Ala., in a county up north, Franklin County to be the New Elmore's Trainer/Manager. I would have sworn that my mouth was wide-open as a Case knife. Hutton was happy about his move from a bigger town in Tennessee. Mrs. Wiginton was wearing a real smile. And upon my Civilian Visits, she was not as prone to watch me for possible shoplifting as I shopped with (this) Elmore's in a peace that can only dreamed about.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Bad News: In the months ahead, I did my job of soliciting Display Ads from Elmore's, Foodway, and other Hamilton, Ala., merchants and did form, sort of, a working relationship with the new store manager, Roy Hutton, who confided in some rather sad news about (The) Elmore's stores, not just the one store. Turns out that, and I do not know why he devulged this news to me since we had not been friends that long, but he said that Elmore's higher-up's in Birmingham, Ala., the Headquarters, had made a soft decision (not publicized) as to down-size the amount of Elmore's stores and that meant losing some store managers and some faithful employees.

Mr. Davis, the once-store manager for the Elmore's where I first met him, was transferred to the Russellville, Ala, store for a reason: Davis' exemplemary employee record was such that had no blotches or black spots. In short, an Excellent employee. Instead of the higher-up's firing Davis, it was about the same as Mr. Davis was made the Trainer/Manager--doing the job of two employees for the salary of one. These higher-up's with their omnipotence, figured that Davis would grow weary of this transfer and get tired of the two-employee workload and quit. When Hutton told me this I was crawling on the store's tile floor for being so sad for Davis.

Elmore's, Hamilton, Ala., shut down in a few more months, and I found out that Mr. Hutton, the so-called store manager was in fact, in charge of the Store Shut-Down Coordinator. Mrs. Wiginton, the always-faithful employee stayed to the end. I wonder if she had some Marine Corps. in her?

And me? I went forward learning more as time went by about the newspaper business. But two things are for sure: I really felt sad for how Mr. Davis had been treated for all in all, he was a good guy. And Mrs. Wiginton, even with her paranoia about shoplifting, was a good egg too.

The last thing: When the Elmore's store finally shut-down, that did not make me feel any better. Fact is, I did not, in any way, feel like "Virgil Hilts," "Cooler King," aka/Steve McQueen, of The Great Escape.

No. I did not feel happy at all. Even with my time being over as the "Prisoner of Elmore's"

Inside Elmore's 1981.

Inside Elmore's 1981.

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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