Location of Alderson, West Virginia
|• Total||1.0 sq mi (2.5 km2)|
|• Land||0.9 sq mi (2.3 km2)|
|• Water||0.1 sq mi (0.1 km2)|
|Elevation||1,549 ft (472 m)|
|• Density||1,214.5/sq mi (468.9/km2)|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|GNIS feature ID||1534854|
Alderson's Store is a rare historic structure and a third generation family owned women's clothing shop that is nestled in the quaint town of Alderson, West Virginia. It features beautiful Art Deco Architecture and design.
As a boy, he worked in the back of the store, picking flies off the butter or flicking sprouts from the spuds. "When I was a little kid coming to the store, I did most of my work in the back room. We'd have maybe 200 bushels of potatoes back there. About this time of year they'd be sprouting. I'd have to sit there and get the sprouts out of them before they be shipped to the mining companies."
His father bought butter from area farmers and shipped it to Baltimore. "In that day and time, we had no refrigeration. The butter would get bad. It would even get flies in it. I'd have to sit there and pick the flies off the butter before it could be shipped to Baltimore."
Eighty-seven year-old John Marshall Alderson III, great-great-great grandson of the town's first settler, still works in the back of Alderson's store, tending books and sending statements, lending a lifetime of experience to a century-old retailing tradition.
"I don't remember not working in the store," said the soft-spoken, snowy haired proprietor. "My father organized the store in 1887. It was next to the Presbyterian church down there. The church parking lot was out parking lot for horses and buggies and wagons. We had the only place in the area where you could come and put your horses." Sitting at his roll-top desk in the "new" store, a dignified dry goods emporium that replaced the original Alderson's more than 50 years ago, he talks easily about the old general store, one memory feeding another, enjoying the reverie.
"We had everything a store could sell. Patent medicines, glassware, dishware, tinware, enamelware, shoes. We had from here to that window there in piece goods. And there was men's clothing of all kinds. Everything but dress clothes. My father's brother had a men's store so we didn't compete. "We even sold crossties to the railroad," he added. "Every few days we'd get truckloads of ties. I'd go out and put JMA on those ties and store them down by the depot." Area farmers were major suppliers. "We bought everything the farmers had to sell; eggs, butter, apples, chestnuts. One year we shipped a whole truckload of chestnuts to Baltimore. Eggs were a dime a dozen." Literally. "I sold many a dozen eggs for 10 cents," he said. "We had a standing order every week for 60 cases of eggs that went to the coal fields."
Stalled twice in his quest for a business degree at the University of Richmond, first when he was called home by his father's illness and later by a stint in World War I, Alderson finally gave up on college and became an official store employee. "I'd been interrupted too much." he said. "I told my father I wanted to work in the store, I never intended to go anyplace but the store." He started at the grand sum of $75 a month. "I took the place of two men." he said proudly. "When I came home, my father had two men helping him in the store. He fired them. One was even his brother-in-law. But he said he wouldn't need them since I was going to be home."
It was young Alderson who came up with the merchandising brainstorm that changed the store's personality. "I got us started in the dress business, I'd order dresses on approval from a New York house. Then I'd send out about 50 postcards telling people I'd just received dresses. I'd sell maybe half of them right off the bat because no body in Alderson sold ready-made dresses."
"We commenced to selling so many dresses, that's the reason we went to the second floor. The upstairs was just storage, but we put in a stairway and put in ladies' wear and coats, on the order of what we carry today."
The only other major change at Alderson's occurred in 1930 when the old store was destroyed by fire. "The fire broke out around midnight, the night before Thanksgiving. It about killed me to stand there and watch it burn." But Alderson's hardly skipped a beat. We rented a building down the street. I immediately got on the railroad. First I went to Baltimore and did some shopping there. Then I went to New York and bought dresses/ Within two weeks, we were back in business."
A restaurant was moved to the old store site to make room for a new building closer to the center of town. "We cut out groceries and changed the type of store entirely. My dad was willing to do it. He was about ready to turn the store over to me anyway. We couldn't afford to have all the things we had in the old store. Times were changing. It had got to the point where more than half the business we were doing at the old store was up on the second floor where I had the dresses and coats and brassieres."
Today the study structure of carved Indiana limestone seems untouched by time. Except for a necessary nod at the vagaries of women's fashion, the store has remained mostly as it was in the early 1930s from the vintage lights to the walls and fixtures of carved solid walnut. Remodeling was never considered, he said. "We get more comments on it the way it was." The old Burouges adding machine hints at the history of the place. "That thing's been around at least since the fire," Alderson said. He doesn't put much faith in such new fangled contraptions. "I add everything up on the machine, then do it over myself to make sure it's right. I have more trust in myself."
He likes the old way of doing things. "I'm, still the old store, I don't change, I'm going to do business like I've always done business. I have plenty of customers who owe me $100, $300, even $500. But I don't charge them interest. I never collected a nickel from anybody. I never sued a man in my life. When my dad had the store a lot of the farmers never paid anything but once a year. A grandchild of one of our original customers shops here now. She said her father told her to always by at Alder son's because Mr. Alden was nice enough to let them have things when they couldn't afford it."
Slowed only slightly by age, Alder son works five hours a day, six days a week. He sill does all the buying, traveling to market shows in Charleston and Bluefield, selecting merchandise, filing it all in his head without taking a single note. "I don't know how much I'm spending," he explained, "but I know I have plenty to pay for it."
Hunched over the huge oak rolltop desk that once belonged to the president of Alderson Baptist College, now Alderson-Broaddus, he does tax reports, places orders, writes checks and sends out statements. About the only thing Alderson doesn't do at Alderson's is wait on customers. "These days I think the women would rather have one of the girls wait on them," he said. "Twenty years ago, they all wanted me to do it. They knew I knew what we had or when it would be in. They knew I knew more about the store because I'd spent a lifetime working in it."
They say John Alderson Knew everything, even the size of his customers' underpants. He recalls the customer who wanted to buy her what size underpants she wore, she said, "Oh, I don't know. Ask Mr. Alderson." She wasn't sure herself, but she knew I'd know.
Even after all this time, "only 68 years counting from the day I went on the payroll." the town's retailing graddaddy isn't about to retire. The store's 100th birthday next year is reason enough to stick around, he said. What happens to Alderson's is in the hands of his son, an attorney with State Farm. "Ive willed the store to him lock, stock and barrel. H can do with it what he wants, even get rid of it. It's all up to him." (Taken from Sandy Wells, interview with John Alderson III)