By Melissa Johnson Warnke
Manager of Communication and Engagement
The Alabama Retail Association has more than 4,100 members statewide. As we travel across Alabama, I always enjoy the chance to share the unique stories each of our members has to tell. Retail is truly woven into the fabric of each community. Retailers employ 1 in 4 people in our state; they are the biggest supporters of local causes and charities; and they add a special kind of vibrancy to our cities and towns.
I recently spent the day in downtown Auburn. One of our member businesses, Ware Jewelers, is marking a big milestone, 70 years in business! Ronnie and Tina Ware, the store’s current owners, are celebrating by doing what they do best – serving their customers! During the entire month of April, the store is offering special discounts and sales.
“The celebration is a chance for us to communicate how appreciative we are of our customers who have supported us for 70 years. We wouldn’t be here without them. We have always prided ourselves on carrying the finest brands and making sure we offer the very best in customer service. Ultimately, that’s what this is all about,” said Tina Ware.
Ronnie’s parents founded the business in 1946 on College Street in downtown Auburn. That location is still home to Ware Jewelers , and while the newly renovated building looks much different than it did in 1946, many of the original features are incorporated into the new design. A chandelier that hangs in the front of the store was one of the store’s three original chandeliers, the bricks in the entryway were also from the original store, and the store’s first vault door is still in place, although a more technologically advanced door is now used for the actual vault. I can’t wait to share the entire feature story on Ware Jewelers later this month. There is so much history to tell, including some interesting tidbits – including the fact that the first color TV in Auburn was sold by Ware Jewelers. In addition to the Auburn location, Ware has 3 other locations – Tiger Town in Opelika, EastChase in Montgomery and Eastern Shore Centre in Spanish Fort.
I appreciated the wonderful hospitality of Tina and Ronnie during my visit. They were nice enough to give me a tour of the building, which included a beautiful view of Toomer’s Corner and downtown Auburn. As an Auburn alum, the view was especially meaningful.
Right next door to Ware Jewelers in downtown Auburn is another longtime member business, J&M Bookstore. The business is owned and operated by brothers Skip and Trey Johnston. The two are second-generation business owners, like the Wares, and are also proud of the deep roots their business has with the Auburn community and Auburn University. The business was founded in 1953 by George Johnston, whose sons Skip and Trey now own and operate the business.
Skip Johnston is the newest member of the Alabama Retail Association board of directors. You can look for our feature on J&M Bookstore in the July issue of the Alabama Retailer magazine.
Another Alabama Retail visit last week, while not in Auburn, shows just how interconnected the retail community is within the state of Alabama. While we were in Birmingham the day before my Auburn visit, we interviewed Terry Finley, CEO of Books-A-Million for another feature story for our magazine. During the course of the interview, we learned that his first job was selling books at J&M Bookstore while in school at Auburn University. Finley told us that he worked there to pay for his tuition, and he knew the Johnston family well. Years later, he now leads the nation’s second largest book seller, which is headquartered in Birmingham.
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