August 9, 2017 10:44:54 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon and the weather seemed appropriate for the topic at hand.
Lex Jackson, who came to town 45 years ago after a flood, told The Dispatch, as the rain fell, he would be closing his Columbus clothing store in the spring.
Jackson said the decision is one he's been thinking about for several years.
"We're not closing until next spring," Jackson said. "It will be business as usual through the fall and winter and then we'll start ramping down. But I told my employees and a few friends and word gets out, so this is as good as time as any to go ahead and announce it."
Reed's, which has operated in Jackson Square on Highway 45 for 20 years, will close almost 45 years to the date the store first opened in Columbus at Leigh Mall. It will also mean the end to Jackson's 48-year partnership with the Reed family of Tupelo, although Jackson will still manage the Jackson Square shopping center, which he owns jointly with the Reeds.
"The Reeds are more than business partners," Jackson said. "After 48 years, I don't consider them like family. They are family."
R.W. Reed first opened the family-named business in 1905 as a dry goods store in Tupelo. His sons, Bob Jr. and Jack Sr., joined the business after returning from service in World War II.
Jackson, whose father worked with NASA, was born in Dallas, but spent his teen years in Huntsville, Alabama.
In 1970, the 21-year-old Jackson went to Tupelo looking for work after his wife had found a job there. He said he and Jack Reed Sr. hit it off immediately. Jackson worked at the downtown and Tupelo mall stores before asking Jack Sr. to partner with him on another expansion.
"I really wanted to open my own store, so I went to Big Jack and asked if he'd be interested. Everybody said that's a pipe dream. If Jack wanted to open a store, he'd just open a store. He didn't need a partner. But for some reason, he said yes."
Jackson and Reed opened a store in New Albany.
"Then there was the Easter flood in April of 1973," Jackson said. "The developer, Jim Wilson, came to Tupelo to try to get Jack to open a store in the mall because a lot of people had bailed. There were probably eight to 10 stores that didn't reopen after the flood. They didn't have flood insurance and it wiped them out. After the flood, they were offering a pretty good deal so we decided to come to Columbus."
Jackson -- and Reed's -- have been in Columbus ever since with Jackson working first with Jack Sr., and then his son, Jack Reed Jr., who joined the family business in 1980 after several years of practicing law in Tupelo.
"We did well in Leigh Mall," Jackson said. "It was really a great place to do business. We were located across from Walgreen's just down from Hibbett Sporting Goods. Back then, you had Sears and Penney's, but most of the stores were local businesses."
In 1997, the Reed-Jackson partnership decided to leave Leigh Mall after new owners had raised the rental fees. Jackson suggested a large shopping center on Highway 45, previously anchored by a Kroger's grocery story.
"We got together with John Bean, built the building where his (Sweet) Pepper's restaurant is, and moved into the center, which was renamed Jackson Square," Jackson said. "At the time, it was a huge risk. But it really couldn't have worked out any better. We've got great tenants. We don't have any vacancies. It proved to be a good decision."
"The timing was almost perfect," Jack Reed Jr. added. "We left Leigh Mall right before it started its decline. Jackson Square has been a great investment for us."
Reasons for closing
Both of Jackson's sons live in Tennessee and have other careers, so the idea of Jackson passing along his share of the business to his family was not an option.
"You know, we never thought about closing the store," Jackson said. "We figured we'd just operate until it was time to leave and then have the Reeds buy us out and continue on. But the thing is, by the time that time comes, Jack Jr. will looking toward retirement, too, and there wasn't any of his family interested in coming to Columbus."
Jackson, who also partners with the Reeds in the Starkville store, is selling his interest there to the Reeds, which will keep that store open along with its three stores in Tupelo.
"The hardest part was telling our employees," Jackson said. "Of our 18 employees, we have five that have been with us more than 20 years. We've become a family, too, and I think that's why so many of our employees have stayed."
Among those employees is Babis Edwards, who has been with Reed's for 29 years, almost all of it in the shoe department.
"I'm from Germany, but my husband was from Columbus," Edwards said. "When he left the military, we moved Columbus and I got a job a Reed's just a few months later. I came all the way from Germany to sell Birkenstocks. Funny, huh?"
Edwards took the news of the closing hard.
"Two words," she said. "Shock and devastation. I just loved working at Reed's and loved my job, everything about it. So, I'm really sad to see the store close. Now I have to find another job."
Jackson said after the store closes, he'll keep his office at the back of the 19,000 square-foot store.
"I'll probably come in a few days a week and work until noon or so," he said. "We had already been easing off before. We have a home in Colorado and have been spending a month there two or three times a year. It's a lot different than when we started when I might take eight days off a year and none of them a Saturday."
'Seems like the right time'
Jackson said he knew it was time to retire.
"I had heart surgery, five-bypasses, in December and I'm 69 years old," he said. "It's not like I'm about to keel over. I'm doing well. But we have been talking about when it was time to leave for several years now. This just seems like to right time."
He said while he has no tenant lined up to move into the Reed's store, he isn't particularly worried.
"If someone shows an interest, we might wall off 4,000 square feet or so," Jackson said. "Nobody wants a store this size any more.
"But that's fine. What a lot of people probably don't know is that much of the property on the back side of the stores are climate-controlled storage units, which is real easy to manage because everything is computerized.
"We have 91 units already, so if we need to, we can open those units here, too," he added.
Jackson said he's sure he'll be taking strolls down memory lane as the closing approaches next year.
"We have customers whose kids have kids who shop here now," he said. "Forty-five years is a long time in this business. I've loved every minute of it, but it's time."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]