Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 2009 in Photos

Inauguration 2009
January - Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.

IKEA Charlotte
February - IKEA comes to Charlotte.

Katz's Delicatessen
March - Only in New York

L'Enfant Plaza Station - Washington Metro
April - Brutalism can be cool...

May - can paying too much for dinner.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards
June - An American pastime...

Independence Day 2009
July - ...and a family tradition.

Bill's Truck Stop
August - Beauty's where you find it...

Silver Diner
September - ...often finding it by accident.

U2 360° Tour Charlottesville 017
October - Icons of rock...

November - ...icon of retail.

Biltmore House
December - With a dramatic finish.

Happy New Year, Y'all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Acres of memories

Sam Witcher can look back on eight decades of growing tobacco in Franklin County.

By Ruth L. Tisdale | | 981-3149
Sunday, October 07, 2007

SNOW CREEK, Va. -- Rip. Snap.

The sounds of tobacco leaves being ripped from a stalk have defined 88-year-old Sam Witcher.

He heard it growing up in the Snow Creek area of southeast Franklin County in the 1930s while his mother washed clothes for others.

He made the sounds when as a 15-year-old boy he pulled the leaves from the plants as a sharecropper to put food on the table for his family.

The sounds grew louder as he bought more and more farmland in Franklin County and Henry County until he owned nearly 1,000 acres.

But although others have sold farms to developers to pay for a better life, Witcher has kept all of the land for himself and his family.

"I didn't want to sell the land," said Witcher, standing outside his home on a 90-degree August afternoon. "I figured my children or their children would make use of it one day."

Humble beginnings

Higher education was not an option for Witcher growing up in the 1930s.

With state-sanctioned racial segregation at an all-time high in rural Virginia, Witcher said his only option was the tobacco fields.

"The buses weren't coming around back then to pick up blacks," Witcher said. "You had to walk five or 10 miles just to get on the bus. We couldn't go to school like the whites."

But segregation wasn't the only motivation for Witcher to pull tobacco.

Torn apart from his brothers and sisters after his mother lost her job, Witcher was forced to be the man of the house at age 14 and dropped out of school in the seventh grade.

"We stayed with relatives for a while," Witcher said. "Times were hard back then. We just did what everyone else did. We pulled tobacco."

Pulling tobacco as a black sharecropper didn't bring in as much income as it did for Witcher's white counterparts, however.

Witcher said he made just 10 cents a day pulling tobacco, making it nearly impossible to buy land of his own.

"They made the quota higher for us than they did the whites," he said. "You had to plant other things just to survive."

Buying land

But Witcher's fortunes began to change in the 1960s. He was able to buy his own land when more and more farmers gave it up for more lucrative jobs in manufacturing plants in Danville and Martinsville.

"There was a time when everyone grew a little bit of tobacco on their land to keep ahead," he said. "But when the manufacturing jobs started coming in, they started moving off their farms and they were selling the land at cheap prices, so I bought it."

Witcher's other endeavors also increased his land holdings.

In addition to growing tobacco, Witcher had a dairy farm, and raised beef cattle. He also grew hay.

Witcher said his late wife, Elsie Warren Witcher, who was a minister at two churches in the area, kept track of all of the expenses of the household as well as the expenses of the business.

"She knew where everything was," he said. "She kept everything going."

Family affair

As his farms grew, Witcher began using his 11 children to help pull tobacco.

"We just had 10 acres at first," he said. "That was good back then. But we would get the girls out there to pull the tobacco, and when the boys got old enough, they would pull it."

Darlene Swain, one of Witcher's daughters, said she remembers pulling tobacco in the morning before going to school and again after coming home.

"There were six girls before there were any boys," Swain said. "Daddy used to always joke that he wouldn't have any boys to help him. We girls were happy when he finally got his boys."

Out of Witcher's four sons, three have continued on in the family tradition, with all three owning more than 400 acres of land each in Franklin County. None of his seven daughters has gone into farming.

Elvis Witcher, one of Sam Witcher's youngest sons, has taken over much of the land that his father used to farm in addition to the nearly 400 acres he owns.

With work boots covered with red Virginia soil and sweat pouring from his brow from bending low to rip tobacco leaves from their stalk, Elvis Witcher said his father's land still produces more than 450,000 pounds of flue-cured tobacco a year.

Witcher said the amount of work to be done to his father's land is so much that they have to hire 20 men to help with the planting and the harvest, which ends in early November.

"We have had only one year where we didn't have a crop, and that was in 2003, when there was a flood," Witcher said.

Witcher said the family hasn't had to take out any loans for machinery and didn't take a buyout from the government. In 2004 the federal government offered such buyouts as part of the end of the federal tobacco-quota program, which regulated where tobacco could be grown and the prices for which it could be sold.

"We've been lucky," Witcher said.

A dying breed

The Witcher family success is a rarity among black farmers nationwide, said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.

"Black tobacco farmers are becoming extinct at an alarming rate," Boyd said. "They just don't have the capital to compete in today's industry. They are losing land and are being wiped out."

At the beginning of the 1900s, black farmers owned more than 15 million acres of land; today they own fewer than 3 million, Boyd said.

The number of black farmers also has decreased by 50 percent in the past 25 years, and there is only one other black family in Franklin County that raises tobacco, Boyd said.

Blacks own just 1 percent of all farms, with the number of black-owned farms dropping from 54,367 in 1982 to 29,090 in 2002, according to documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization that documents discrimination against black farmers.

Boyd said that while 60 percent of the 11,000 tobacco members in his organization took the 2004 tobacco buyout, the rest did not know about it, and many have since sold their farms.

"Many of these people do not have telephones; some don't even have inside toilets," Boyd said. "It's hard to expect them to go on the Internet and find out this type of information."

Blake Brown, a tobacco economist, said that even those who took money from the 2004 federal buyout have had problems financially.

"It is a free market now with buying tobacco," Brown said. "Many of these small farms don't have the land or the capital to keep up with these bigger manufacturers. All of the African-American farms fall into this category."

Boyd said the disappearance of black farms has a lot to do with discrimination against black farmers.

Boyd's claims are supported by a February 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture report that found when minority farmers applied for loans, they were mistreated and that some complaints filed about the mistreatment went missing.

"Many times black farmers get loans late if they get them at all," Boyd said. "To a farmer, not being able to start planting on time puts you behind other farmers. Black farmers won't report it, because many of the people they report it to are the ones doing the discriminating."

Boyd said for a family such as Witcher's to have long-lasting success in the farming business is an accomplishment.

"With everything that's going on, it shows a tremendous amount of dedication and strength to survive and last this long," he said.

The next generation

But Sam Witcher doesn't feel that way.

On his porch in September, Witcher stood and looked over his 200-acre homeplace.

He saw the idle tobacco barns that he used to cure tobacco and make it ready for the market.

He observed the fields that once touted rows upon rows of tobacco but are now just used to produce hay.

He remembered the day when his wife, Elsie, suddenly died of a heart attack in 2000 and the years that followed when gradually he tilled fewer and fewer of the tobacco fields on his homeplace.

With a tearful eye, Witcher said he doesn't feel like the same farmer he once was.

"I don't know why you all want to do a story on me," Witcher said. "Everything around me is dead."

But a smile and then a laugh arose from his lips when discussion came to his children and the way they care for him.

"They come by and see about me all the time," Witcher said. "I didn't want so many girls at first, but I'm glad I have them now."

Witcher said he had thought about selling his land, which has become prime real estate with the burst of growth at Smith Mountain Lake, but decided to keep it, and the sounds of tobacco harvests past and future, for his family.

"Daddy always said that he was going to keep the land so his family would always have a place to live," Swain said. "No matter how far we go, we would always have some place to call home."

Spend some time on Sam Witcher Sr.'s tobacco farm.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sam Wilson Witcher, Sr. (1918-2009)

My grandfather, Sam Witcher Sr., passed away December 24, 2009. He was 91. He was a remarkable man. He was a lifelong farmer (tobacco, dairy, beef cattle, hay), and in later years invested in real estate. He was a deacon at New Design United Pentecostal Church in Rocky Mount., as well as the treasurer and a member of the Trustee Board.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Bishop E.W. Witcher, and a daughter, Barbara Jean Witcher. He leaves to cherish his memories six daughters; Georgia Powell (Hilton), Darlene Swain (Joe), Flora Cobbs (Andrew), Helen Dodson (late husband Clyde), Lucy Swain (Claude), and Elsie Garnetta Witcher (special friend Michael), four sons; Sam Jr. (Zanny), Mearl (Carolyn), Elvis (Pamela), and Jeremiah (special friend Vanessa), 28 grandchildren and a host of great-grandchildren, cousins, and other relatives and friends.

He was a devoted father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, son, nephew and friend to everyone who knew him.

We don’t know the cause of death and the funeral will be held December 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM at New Design..

Please pray for our family, as we are saddened by this loss.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holidays on Display

The main aisle of Marshall Field & Co., Chicago, circa 1955. (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

Holidays on Display examines the art, industry, and history of holiday display across the United States. Focusing on parading culture and department store retail display, primarily between the 1920s and 1960s, when holiday displays were considered commercial endeavors equally rewarding for the American public, the exhibition showcases numerous photographs, postcards and rendering illustration of parade floats and window displays—including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and Marshall Field & Company Christmas windows—as well as objects relating to the early creation of these displays.

“Holidays on Display” will be on view at the National Museum of American History through November 2010

Link to Smithsonian Institution
Online Exhibition
Press Realease
Asked and Answered | Holidays on Display

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nordstrom Rack to open first N.C. store in Durham

Seattle-based Nordstrom, Inc. announced plans to open its first Nordstrom Rack in North Carolina. The new 33,000-square-foot store will be located at Renaissance Center in Durham. The store is expected to open in fall 2010.

The center is located across the street from Nordstrom’s full-line store at The Streets at Southpoint, which opened seven years ago.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

JCPenney to stop publishing 'big book' catalogs

PLANO, Texas (AP) — J.C. Penney will stop publishing its twice-yearly "big book" catalogs, now that customers increasingly shop online.

Instead, J.C. Penney Co. says it will publish specialty catalogs and focus its efforts online, on the Web site and on social networks. In part, the company says it is responding to consumer habits to view catalogs more as "look books."

The Plano, Texas, company will continue to publish its Christmas catalog and others, such as the "Little Red Book" for women's apparel and "Matters of Style" for men.

Eliminating the hefty twice-a-year catalogs will cut the company's paper use by 25 percent to 30 percent in 2010.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

on the closing of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Bookseller

One of the joys of my childhood was going to Tanglewood Mall on a Saturday afternoon and checking out what was new at Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Bookseller. It’s hard to remember in a post-superstore and internet world how good these stores were, but they actually were decent stores with good selections in their heyday. They were at least as good as a typical Barnes & Noble and Borders, just smaller and lacking the chairs and coffee.

IMO what killed them was the shifting of corporate focus by their parent companies. After Barnes & Noble and Borders took of in the ’90s, both B. Dalton and Waldenbooks became de-facto outlets for their corporate families and started filling the fronts of their stores with worthless bargain book sections: poorly conceived clearance aisles filled with low quality books that should never have been published in the first place. The over-abundance of loss leaders shrunk the traditional book selections to a shadow of their former selves and ruined the two chains’ reputations as sources for quality books.

Even though Barnes & Noble corporate eventually saw the light and integrated the Barnes & Noble search and order capabilities into their B.Dalton mall stores, Borders corporate steadfastly refused to bring Waldenbooks in line with Borders search and order capabilities until Waldenbooks got so small they couldn’t support their own system.

It doesn’t take a retail genius to figure out that the companies were de-emphasizing the mall stores in favor of a larger, more profitable format and that the reduced selection of a modern Waldenbooks and B.Dalton would eventually make they easy to dispose of if the mall business never recovered (and it hasn’t so far).

It’s sad to think of how many small and medium sized cities will now have no new general-interest bookstore thanks to B. Dalton and Waldenbooks’ closures. Danville, Va. and Bluefield, W.Va. immediately come to mind: somewhat isolated cities that don’t have enough college-educated customers to be considered for a book superstore but yet have enough population to support one. Cities like these will be solely at the mercy of Walmart and the like, which only stock books they figure will sell to a mainstream audience and little else.

This is an embarrassing and depressing situation. Why should people in typically sized American cites have to travel 60 miles or more just to buy a non-New York Times bestseller book in person? I just hope that a company like Books-A-Million will step up and bring some essential choice and selection back to these towns.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Timothy Egan: Working Class Zero

By Timothy Egan, The New York Times

The working class and its self-proclaimed advocates are shouting at phantoms. (more)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

top 15 modernist gas stations

Some of America’s best Mid Century Modern architecture is in the form of gas stations, with their simple space requirements and focus on innovative roofs.

Check out this link to pictures of the top 15 modernist gas stations. You can even vote on your favorite one.

Shared via AddThis

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing to the Middle

Published: August 13, 2009

J.C. Penney has broken free of its suburban parking area to invade Herald Square, and the most frequent question on New York’s collective lips seems to be: Why? (read more)

The new JCPenney at the Manhattan Mall in New York (former home to Gimbels, Stern's and A&S) is open and flourishing in an otherwise dismal retail market. What better way to celebrate its arrival and success by sending the New York Times fashion reporter Cintra Wilson into the store for a review. Ms. Wilson gives the store enough backhanded compliments and outright insults that's almost a parody of a serious article, even for the Fashion & Style section.

Consider this excerpt:

J. C. Penney has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren’t quite up to Canal Street’s illegal standards. It was never “get the look for less” so much as “get something vaguely shaped like the designer thing you want, but cut much more conservatively, made in all-petroleum materials, and with a too-similar wannabe logo that announces your inferiority to evil classmates as surely as if you were cursed to be followed around by a tuba section.”

Just like all good clichés, this hackneyed statement is partly based in truth, but not so much that no one would be able say it definitively. Penney’s is no runway show, but its offerings are no worse than those of Target, Kohl's or even most of the private label merchandise at Macy's.

Considering the questionable (and largely overpriced even at a discount) merchandise that passes for fashion in the dozens of off-price store that cover Manhattan, JCPenney seems like a measure of clarity. At least what you want is likely in your size.

You also have to consider that every other large scale retailer that has been in this mall since the fall of Gimbels has tanked. Stern's, for all of its history as the "Show Biz Store," looked more like a bad infomercial when they were there. Steve & Barry's was even worse, stretching its bland wares into an oversized space that was doomed to fail. Don't get me started on the perpetually lackluster specialty stores in this mall. JCPenney is a strong enough name that it could be a serious contender with the right amount of traffic.

UPDATE: Apparently neither the public or Ms. Wilson's bosses liked the article very much.
The Insult Was Extra Large
NYTimes Issues Apology For Cintra Wilson Article

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is why people don’t go to the mall anymore.

I was at the mall last week with my mom. She was buying a new pair of jeans and I was attempting to buy concert tickets.

Her search for pair of basic jeans was successful only after going to several stores and enduring dozens of pairs of slim-fit, low-rise stretch models clearly not marketed towards the majority of American women. Until she dug for an hour in JCPenney and settled for a less than stellar pair that was the only one that fit that wasn’t severely flared, distressed or heavily decorated, she almost left empty handed.

Go online, they say. But what is the mall there for if everything I need is online?

Who are the buyers for these stores aiming for? The “thin, Middle American, mid-thirties mom with kids” demographic is almost overserved at the mall, and by and large she’s not at the mall in the first place because she doesn’t have time to shop. Yet all the stores are filled with merchandise for her and, largely, her alone.

Teenagers are also heavily marketed to, but they’re usually price conscious in this economic age and looking for deals. No deals are to be found when the stores still think it’s 2005 and try to push aspirational merchandise. Bling is dead, y’all. $2.50 gas and random layoffs killed it. Kids are trying to pay for their cars, cell phones and apartments, not Air Jordans and Louis Vuitton handbags.

The fat, the old and, notably, men and kids get short shrift with the mall too. Need that in a 2x, folks? Go to the back of the store and dig through embarrassing garbage to find something that still probably doesn’t fit. Are you tall? Go elsewhere unless you only like blue polos. Need a suit for church? You MIGHT find it, but it’s either too cheap to last or too expensive (and form fitting) to bother purchasing. Need shoes? They’re too wide, too short, too cheap or too “boogie,” and that’s just at Sears! How about some cool toys or the latest electronic gadget? Sorry, we don’t carry those!

Go online, they say. But what is the mall there for if everything I need is online?

As for me, I left empty handed. I needed concert tickets for U2’s performance in Charlottesville, and since I can’t get affordable high speed internet service, I attempted to ditch the online purchase of same and buy them at my local Ticketmaster outlet, which the website suggested as an alternative. My somewhat friendly Ticketmaster rep informed me that contrary to what the website says, the purchase in person of tickets for a show TWO HOURS AWAY in the SAME STATE was impossible, because Ticketmaster was a “regional operation” and the Roanoke and Charlottesville weren’t in the same region. She suggested I go online.

That accomplished a lot. I could have bought them online in the first place.

Go online, they say. But what is the mall there for if everything I need is online?

Long story short, I got my tickets and I’m headed to Charlottesville to see U2 in October. It took a half hour of frustration online on Ticketmaster’s website to get them, during which I endured several up-sell attempts including event insurance, promising to cover my tickets if something happens (with no mention AT ALL about what constitutes a claim, much less how to file it, and a handy “print your own tickets” utility that somehow costs $2.50 more than having them mail the damn things to you.

This is what I was hoping to avoid by going to the mall.

Carry on.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Prefab House That Dazzles Still

Published: June 15, 2009

The Eames House in southwestern California, which turns 60 this month, remains a model of economy and creativity. (more)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Malls of America: R.I.P.

As of today, the much appreciated Malls of America blog has been removed from Blogger. Keith Milford's work over the past several years chronicling the history of retail was legendary and remarkably thorough. The commentary was always informative and fun, and the photo quality was consistently good.

Malls of America was around for a couple of years before new posts came to an abrupt, unexplained end about a year and a half ago, but it served as the inspiration for at least a half-dozen blogs and websites. I was a supporter to the end, and I kept going back to the site for a while hoping to see new posts. Alas, it was not to be.

If you've never seen the site, check out the archived version before it's too late.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Robert Henry (Chilly) Childress: 1941-2009

I can't say enough good things about my friend. Chilly was a very special person and I'm going to miss him dearly.

When we worked together at LMW, he was always willing to listen and offer advice and he told some of the funniest and most memorable stories I've ever heard. Even after I left the company and his hours got cut, he would look me up wherever I was and even had a bus driver stop a Valley Metro bus just so he could say hi to me when I was walking down the street! No one would have done that but Chilly; he was that kind of person.

Robert Henry (Chilly) Childress, of Roanoke, Va., the oldest of 12 children was born on October 10, 1941, to the late Isaac H. Childress and Julia M. Millner Childress in Roanoke, Va. After a brief illness he departed this life on Friday, March 13, 2009, at Salem VA Medical Center in Salem, Va. Robert was educated in the Roanoke School District and upon graduation from Lucy Addison High, left to serve for seven years in the United States Army. While stationed in Valley Forge, Pa., he met and married Shirley Coleman on July 31, 1965 and resided in Norristown, Pa. From this union were two children, Denise Michelle and Robert. Chilly worked for many years and was said to have been one of the best bartenders in the North. He had many skills and the last was with LMW Engineering Architecture Surveying Corporation, who stated "he was very diligent in his employment and a philosopher." Robert will be remembered by his son, Robert H. Childress Jr. (Valarie); siblings, Calvin E. Childress, Martha A. Childress, Harry T. (aka Joe) Childress, Roszella Cunningham, Lynwood Perry Childress, Wayne M. Childress (Yolanda), of Roanoke, the Reverend Helen M.C. Jones (John), Theresa L. White, of Norristown, Pa., Julia M. Childress, of Tampa, Fla., Teresa C. McClendon (Rev. Michael) and Timothy E. Childress, of Palm Beach, Fla.; three grandchildren, Troy Childress, Tyler Childress and Tamra Childress, of Norristown, Pa.; two aunts, Martha G. Williams (Bill), of Washington, D.C., and Della Millner, of Roanoke, Va.; a host of relatives, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends; and family friends, Melvin Saunders, James Bryant, Steve Stewart, Nilda Sierra, and Patricia Cooper. He was preceded in death by his parents, Isaac H. (March 1980) and Julia M. Childress (November 1997); daughter, Denise Michelle Childress (August 13, 1999); and brother, Isaac N. Childress (July 1965). Memorial services will be held 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, 2009, at Trinity Community Baptist Church, 1814 Carroll Ave., Roanoke. Arrangements by Lotz Funeral Home, Roanoke, Va.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Reviving the memory of his beloved Carolina Circle Mall

Frequent LiveMalls contributor Billy Coore collects memorabilia from the former Carolina Circle Mall. (Greensboro News & Record photo by Neslon Kepley)

The love affair began at a young age, with the cheery music and constant spin of the merry-go-round.

The emotion only grew stronger over time, with trips to the food court, strolls through store aisles and afternoons at the movies.

Even when others fell out of love with Carolina Circle Mall, taking their business and money elsewhere, Billy Coore's devotion remained...

Read more of Lanita Wither's story on Billy Coore at the News & Record website.