LAUREL BASSETT STARTED WORKING AT THE MOUNTAIN BROOK STORE IN HIGH SCHOOL; BECAME A PARTNER IN 10 YEARS;
OWNER IN 12 YEARS
“For a business that was started by a woman in a house during World War II to still be here 80 years later is pretty remarkable,” says Laurel Machen Bassett, current owner of Town and Country Clothes in Mountain Brook.
Since 1943, women owners have operated the business under the same name in the same community. Throughout its history, the shop has sold women’s clothing that is “easy to wear, easy to care for and travels well,” said Laurel, who started in 1997 as a high school co-op worker. “I would leave Mountain Brook High School a couple of hours early and work here in the afternoons,” she said.
She continued working at the store throughout her college years at Birmingham-Southern College while studying art education and painting. Instead of pursuing a career in the art world, Laurel decided to use her artistic flair to better serve her retail customers.
Laurel makes jewelry that combines hand-formed metal pieces and semi-precious stones, as well as hand-dyed and painted silk scarves, which complete the “unusual but classic” look her customers want.
“My studio is my garage,” she said. “I have one area for jewelry and one area for dying.”
The friendly, family atmosphere at the store cultivated by then-owners Lee Cooper and Susan Pearce attracted and kept Laurel working at Town and Country Clothes, she said. “I enjoyed that you get to know the clientele, and I liked the creative aspect of it,” she said.
“They said they hired me, because I said I needed a job and I’d work hard,” Laurel said. Even though she was young, “the owners took me to market with them. I loved being able to do that.”
Susan died in 2002 and by 2007, Laurel and Lee became business partners, just 10 years after Laurel joined the business.
In 2009, when Lee retired, Laurel became the shop’s fourth owner. The second owners (1976 to 1990) were Jane Gray and Jane Lamar.
Margaret Bowron opened Town and Country Clothes in 1943 in a house in what is now the Crestline Village of Mountain Brook. “The village wasn’t officially formed until maybe a couple of years later” said Laurel. The store eventually moved to its current location on Church Street. “We were part of the original development” of Crestline Village, she added.
Town and Country customers tend to be repeat customers. Laurel particularly remembers a gentleman who came in “every year at Christmas to buy his wife jewelry.” He’d been a customer since the first owner. The gentleman told Laurel that Margaret’s husband “would host poker games in the back and the men would ride up on horses, hitch their horses, come in, drink bourbon and smoke cigars while (Margaret) would bring out clothes to the ladies in the front.”
Most of Town and Country Clothes customers though are female. “We have a lot of women from the neighborhood who stop in every week,” said Laurel. Town and County Clothes also draws customers from a couple of hours away. Laurel says her store has a reputation of being a place “where you can trust people to give you honest opinions and help you navigate through the merchandise.”
Just like their boss, the store’s employees generally stay. “There’s one lady who’s been here longer than I have,” said Laurel. “She’s been here almost 30 years” and a group of customers come just to see her. Most employees stay at least five years. Like Laurel, her employees develop relationships and trust with customers.
Laurel and her husband have two daughters, ages 5 and 9, who spend time in the store and help Mom dye fabrics in her home studio. “My oldest says she wants to take over (the store when she grows up), and she’s very serious. My 5-year-old wants to be a hair stylist down the street, so they can go to lunch together.”
Who knows, the budding entrepreneurs may be the next generation owners.
Town and Country Clothes at 74 Church Street in Mountain Brook is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Visit online at townandcountryclothes.com