Past and Present are Closely Linked at the Mast Store in Greenville
- January 27, 2016 |
Leafing through a stack of old black-and-white photographs of the building that now houses Mast Store Greenville, it’s fun to imagine what it felt like to shop at 111 North Main Street during the mid-20th century. A member of our Mast Store family fills in the blanks with her vivid memories of a beautiful and bustling store full of people and goods making the history of this lovely brick-walled building come to life. How does she know the nuances of this special place? Mary Alice Shand, a youthful 80-years-old, began her career in this very same building in 1951 at the tender age of 16.
Meyers-Arnold Department Store was a favorite Downtown Greenville shopping destination from 1903 until it moved to McAlister Mall in 1971. “It was truly magnificent,” Mary Alice raves. “As a family-owned store, everyone was very close. I started on the sales floor in the jewelry department and also worked in the marking department after school. By the time I left the company 25 years later, I’d become the bookkeeper and accounts payable supervisor. I absolutely loved every minute of it.
“Noland Meyers was one of the four brothers who founded Meyers-Arnold. He was president of the company when I worked there,” says Mary Alice. “His home was a suite at the Poinsett Hotel. Can you imagine? His wife had a long-necked mink coat that I just drooled over.
“Noland Meyers was a very good retailer and genuinely cared about people. It was rumored that during the Great Depression, Mr. Meyers let people buy on credit, and he didn’t lose a dime. He was a very good man.”
Mary Alice reminisces, “The company Christmas parties were always held in the mezzanine area [currently the Mast Store Shoe Department]. Everyone in the company drew a co-worker’s name and purchased a gift with a budget of one dollar. The personnel director drew my name the first year. I was only 16-years-old, and this very important person in the company gifted me an elegant long tube of lipstick. She definitely spent more than a dollar on my gift. It was so fancy. I’ll never forget it!” [Mary Alice is pictured seated in the foreground in the picture above.]
Meyers-Arnold boasted a wide variety of departments: bridal, gloves and scarves, millinery (hats and hat forms), cosmetics, jewelry, lingerie, handbags, fine china, housewares, fashion and custom-made drapery, hosiery, budget and upscale shoes, and clothing departments for men, women, boys, girls, and infants. The store even included a beauty parlor.
Two of departments you don’t usually find in modern stores were some of Mary Alice’s favorites: piece goods and notions. “The piece goods department was housed in what is now the candy department. We had high quality bolts of cloth and huge stacks of pattern books. My mother made all of my clothes from those pattern books. The notions department offered accessories for sewing needs like threads, zippers, and buttons,” recalls Mary Alice.
She grins at the memory, “I’ll never forget that we exclusively carried Charles of the Ritz loose powder in the cosmetics department. The two ladies that worked in that department mixed personalized powder to match each woman’s skin color. It had the most clean and crisp scent.
“We also had a personal shopper who went by the alias Anna Dale. All of the major stores downtown had a personal shopper, Ivey’s, Belk’s, and Penney’s, and they all had the same initials ‘A.D.’ I’m not sure why. We also offered a delivery service that was outsourced.”
“Our display department’s sole responsibility was to style the store to best represent its products, dress mannequins, and put them on display. In fact, there used to be a glass-walled display case on the sidewalk in front of the store with a rotating display of mannequins wearing the store’s fashions. Store guests had to enter the store on either side of the display case, so you couldn’t miss it.
“The employee dress code was more strict than it is now. Women were not allowed to wear pants, and it was mandatory to don the dreaded pantyhose. After a vacation at the beach, I had a nice tan and skipped wearing hose to work. My manager even checked my legs. I don’t know if she couldn’t tell the difference, but she didn’t reprimand me for not wearing my hose,” says Mary Alice with a grin.
“Everyone’s favorite place to go to lunch was right around corner at Five Points Pharmacy. It was the cutest little drug store you’ve ever seen with two pharmacists in house to assist. I always ate their delicious pimento cheese sandwich with a fountain Coca-Cola.”
A few other items of note: Meyers-Arnold offered all kinds of services you don’t see as much these days: Ladies were personally fitted in the lingerie department. Meyers-Arnold utilized the entire second floor of the building, which would double Mast Store’s current sales floor area. [The second floor is currently used for storage.] And the store was never open on Sundays.
The store’s cash system was also quite interesting. Two employees worked side-by-side at the sole register in the upstairs office. An intricate tube system [pictured right] delivered the cash from each department to the register room, where they would make change and send it back to the employee at their individual station.
As she progressed from sales floor to management, Mary Alice discovered her love for and gift of accounting. “We did absolutely everything by hand in those days. Daily sales were all recorded on carbon paper. Cash flow, profit and loss statements, and inventory were all done by hand. I had stacks and stacks of paper in my office, but I could always put my hands on exactly what I needed,” she smiles.
“I didn’t mind doing everything by hand in those days. In fact, I loved it. I worked closely with the buyers, managed people in my department, and I loved that, too. Working with people and doing detailed statistical work were both very satisfying.”
Mary Alice reflects, “Meyers-Arnold was such a wonderful company to work for. I was the officer of our company club that collected dues to help pay for parties and picnics. We also had covered dish dinners with door prizes. We always had so much fun together.
“You can see why Mast is my cup of tea! There are so many similarities. John and Faye Cooper (the primary owners of Mast General Store) have carried on the same culture of family. I give Mast General Store much of the credit for the revival of Downtown Greenville.”
The road that led Mary Alice back to 111 North Main Street is a sweet one. “After my years of service with Meyers-Arnold, I worked as the Office and Operations Manager for many years at Belk’s. I retired in March 2002, and I hated it. I knew Mary Nase [retired General Manager of Mast Store Greenville] from our time working together at Belk’s. She called and offered me a job at the new store. I told her I wasn’t ready to come out of retirement. One day later, I called her back and took the job. That was 13 years ago, and I’ve never regretted it.”
While Mary Alice praises Meyers-Arnold and Mast General Store for their family atmosphere, the truth is that she is a shining example of the culture she adores so much. If you chat with anyone in Mast Store Greenville about Mary Alice, their eyes light up with joy. Her beautiful smile, genuine warmth, and welcoming manner have helped create an urban family that every workplace would love to emulate. Mary Alice’s co-workers adore her and are so grateful that she’s become an important part of their families, too.
Mary Alice’s incredible career spans decades and she feels it’s a wonderful gift that, as the saying goes, “all roads lead back to home.” How could her 16-year-old self ever have ever imagined that she’d be crossing the threshold of 111 North Main Street into her eighth decade of life? With her winning smile and twinkling eyes, she simply replies, “I feel very fortunate.”