Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Greatest Store in the Greatest State

When non-Texans think of retail stores in Texas, the name Neiman-Marcus comes instantly to most minds.  The Dallas specialty retailer, led first by Mr. Herbert Marcus, then by his son, Mr. Stanley Marcus, certainly became and remains world-famous.  I have a long history with N-M, and still have a soft spot in my heart for it (even though the Marcus family is no longer associated with it, and it’s certainly not the store I grew up with).  I have lots of stories involving Neiman’s---eating lunch with Mother and her friends at the Zodiac Room (the fabulous restaurant on the top floor, run by the incomparable Helen Corbitt, where models would wander the room, stopping at your table, “I’m wearing a Balenciaga frock, with matching hat and gloves and pumps; price $500 in our Couture department”), buying the odd item for myself (I still always have one or two Neiman’s items around, including some that Mother bought me back then), meeting Mr. Stanley Marcus several times and enjoying every second of it (a true gentleman in the finest sense of the word).  This story, however, is not about Neiman-Marcus.

Houstonians, of course, revered Sakowitz.  The flashy store at Post Oak and Westheimer, operated by the equally flashy retail showman Robert Sakowitz, was the place where generations of Houstonians bought their finest items. This story, however, is not about Sakowitz.

There were the great and wonderful stores Sanger Brothers, A. Harris (then Sanger-Harris), and Foley’s, but this story is not about them.

There was another store in Texas, not as instantly-recognizable or flute-snooty as Neiman’s, not as flashy as Sakowitz, not as mundane as Sanger-Harris or Foley’s, but one which made an indelible mark on me and countless other Texans in years gone past.  I speak, of course, of

Joske’s of Texas.

ephem2-210-JoskesJoske’s was this great big grand wonderful romp of a store.  For decades their slogan was “The Biggest Store in the Biggest State”.  They had to change it when Alaska, with its hundreds of square miles of frozen tundra, became the “Biggest” state (I guess we don’t have much to say about “miles and miles of miles and miles”; anybody ever been to Andrews County, Texas?), but still---

They changed it to “The Greatest Store in the Greatest State”, but we Josketeers know better.

I say “we Josketeers” because I was one. 

On Sunday, February 11, 1973, I turned 16.  My Dad drove me over to his buddy’s house; I opened the door and got out, thinking Dad was right behind me.  He was, all right---in the car.  As soon as I closed the door, he gunned it and I was standing there alone in Mr. Lochte’s yard.  No choice but to go knock on his door, pay him the agreed-upon $250, and drive home in the charcoal-gray-and-pink (“Heather Rose, Jewell Black and Sapphire White”) hemi-powered 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer parked in his driveway, utilizing the skills I had garnered in the un-airconditioned black drivers’ ed Volkswagens on a hot asphalt parking lot at MacArthur High School the previous summer, and the freshly-minted handwritten paper receipt in my pocket that said, “Texas Department of Public Safety - Driver License”.

1955_Dodge_Custom_Royal_Lancer_ad1Having obtained the car, I quickly determined that it had a rather voracious appetite for gasoline. As I got $5 a yard, gas cost $0.25/gallon, and I had a 25 gallon tank, the math indicated that I’d have to mow a yard for approximately every 3/4 of a tank I drove.  I drove up the first tank in two days---and it was February; nobody needed any yard service.  Of course, there was also Mother to consider:  “When are you going to get a job?” (“so you can get your own transportation and I won’t have to shuttle your lazy butt around any more”)

It became immediately apparent that steady work was necessary.

Knowing that one of the teachers in my Sunday School department at Trinity Baptist Church was a very nice man named Jack Preston, and knowing that Mr. Preston was the Assistant Manager of the Joske’s at North Star Mall, and being well-familiar with Joske’s, I elected to apply for work at Joske’s, using Mr. Preston’s name as a reference.  (Jack was very kind to all of us, none of us was ever turned down at Joske’s.  We all tried very hard never to let him down, and I don’t think many did.).

Thus began my association with The Greatest Store in the Greatest State.

>End of Part I, Stay Tuned for Part II<

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