John Shearer: Charles Pierce Enjoyed Working With Redford’s Stores

  • Monday, November 7, 2022
  • John Shearer

For a couple of generations of Chattanoogans – including baby boomers when they were children – a main place to buy a variety of needed items was not Walmart, Target or even Amazon Prime.

It was the Redford’s five-and-dime store. Chances are if you grew up in Chattanooga or the surrounding areas and are at least in your 50s, you remember a Redford’s store. The locally based chain at one time had about 33 stores within 100 miles of Chattanooga, including around 11 in the city at such places as on Lookout Mountain, in Hixson and Red Bank, and at Brainerd and Germantown roads.

At Redford’s one could get stationary, greeting cards, school supplies, toys, loose candy sold by weight, artificial cemetery flowers, hardware and houseware items, and Halloween costumes and other seasonal gifts. They even sold such unusual items as chamber pots, colorful baby chickens at Easter, and extra-large pink women’s bloomers.

“We carried a lot of stuff other places didn’t. We got the best prices from the manufacturers. We could buy by volume,” remembered Charles Pierce, who started working with the local chain in its warehouse while in college and worked his way up to being a member of the executive team.

And one could shop with the folding baskets made of striped canvas, while often being greeted by salesladies as well as the aroma of freshly popped popcorn.

“If you came in more than once or twice, we would recognize you,” Mr. Pierce added.

A few stores, such as the one on Main Street and in places like Rome, Ga., even had lunch counters.

As Mr. Pierce reminisced about Redford’s while sitting in the outdoor patio of Rembrandt’s coffee house one nice fall morning recently, he said that the store chain enjoyed many years of success, but that it had been started in disappointment.

He said a man named William A. Redford had managed the Main Street S.H. Kress store – a national five-and-dime-store chain located in Chattanooga at the time along with Woolworth’s – but that he was too full of creative ideas for the company’s good.

“Mr. Redford was a very innovative guy and always trying something new, and Kress’ was very rigid in their store layout,” Mr. Pierce recalled. “If something wasn’t selling, he might move it and see if it would sell.”

He did that more than once, Mr. Pierce said he remembered hearing, and that angered Kress’ officials, so they planned to fire him. He heard in advance that the officials were coming from the company headquarters, and he told them he was resigning when they arrived.

While that job ended, he was just getting started on a successful five-and-dime store career and would move well beyond management into being a top executive and owner. Mr. Pierce said that Mr. Redford opened similar-style stores with multiple business partners before settling on the Redford’s concept about 1936 in the height of the Depression.

Mr. Pierce’s father-in-law, Sam Phillips, had been a manager for Kress in Rome, and had kept an automobile in a woman neighbor’s garage for personal need, despite another stern Kress policy against managers having automobiles. Mr. Redford was familiar with Mr. Phillips and his good work ethic, and he got Mr. Phillips to begin working with the company.

The two would literally become driving forces in the company’s success. Mr. Phillips went on to become a top executive along with two of his brothers, W.G. Phillips and Edward H. Phillips, and Ed Cole, Mr. Redford’s son-in-law. They would go on to grow the company with stores in Chattanooga and such other places as Rome, Smyrna, Powder Springs and Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, Manchester, Fayetteville and Lewisburg in Tennessee, and Fort Payne, Attalla and Guntersville in Alabama.

They would often be in county seats like an old rural country store and would follow the customs that would include being closed on a certain weekday before hours were expanded at all stores, including on Sundays.

Mr. Pierce said the executive leadership team would all meet on Friday afternoons and figure out in an amicable manner any issues that needed addressing.

“It was very much a family operation,” he recalled. “I was always amazed at how well the two families got along.”

Mr. Pierce did hear that Mr. Redford could occasionally get angry or perturbed at other times, and people started using his initials to call him the W.A.R. Department behind his back, he recalled with a laugh.

Mr. Redford, who lived at 12 Ridgeside Road in Shepherd Hills in later years, was active in First Baptist Church, the Gideons, Chattanooga Civitan Club, and the Chattanooga Yacht Club.

Of the Phillips brothers, one writeup from 1973 at the time Sam Phillips was named chairman of the board as the successor to Mr. Redford said that he was a member of the Civitan Club, the Mountain City Club, the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, and First Presbyterian Church.

W.G. Phillips, who had also been involved with Redford’s since about its inception, was involved in Gideons International and was a member of Daytona Heights Baptist Church. E.H. Phillips was also a member of Daytona Heights Baptist and had served in the Coast Guard.

Mr. Cole, who was married to the Redfords’ daughter, Elizabeth, had grown up in Nashville, attended the University of Chattanooga and had been with American Lava and Chattanooga Wheelbarrow Co. before joining Redford’s.

Mr. Pierce had gone to Chattanooga “City” High as the son of construction worker and DuPont employee John Pierce before graduating in 1958. While being seated next to Sam Phillips’ daughter, Rickie, due to homeroom alphabetical seating, they began a friendship that evolved into dating.

They continued dating while in college at the University of Chattanooga, and Mr. Pierce had started working in the Redford’s warehouse, which took up space above their Main Street store and above Cooper Dyer’s nearby furniture store.

Upon graduation after studying education and political science and with thoughts of being a teacher, Mr. Pierce was asked by Mr. Cole to stay on with Redford’s and was sent to the Rome store. Rickie had gone on to graduate education school at UT in Knoxville, but she started missing him and eventually they were married in the fall of 1962. (They recently had a nice 60th anniversary celebration, Mr. Pierce said.)

Rickie initially taught at Rockmart High in Georgia – where some of the students were older than she was – and would go on to a career first at UTC and then in administration at Girls Preparatory School as well as being involved in civic leadership. The couple would also eventually have two children, Lynne Mulligan, and the late Charles “Chuck” Pierce.

Mr. Pierce, who also worked in Smyrna, later became the manager of stores on Rossville Boulevard, in Fort Oglethorpe and Brainerd, and oversaw the staffs, including hardworking adult women who were the sales ladies.

He then began helping in company leadership with everything from buying to advertising/sales promotion and later became corporate secretary. As a younger member of the leadership team, he saw the potential in TV advertising at a time when stations locally were starting to grow and become more popular. He jokingly remembers trying to convince the skeptical older team members during one of the Friday meetings.

Many people of a certain generation grew up going to visit a Redford’s in their neighborhood, and if you were a child at the time, it was even more a treat. I was an elementary school and junior high student at Bright and Baylor schools in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and used to frequent the Redford’s in Hixson usually with my mother, the late Velma Shearer.

While Highland Plaza a couple of miles south was a popular place for Hixson residents to shop before Northgate Mall opened in 1972, the Redford’s in Hixson was even closer to our home in Valleybrook. As a result, we would often drop by the Redford’s at 5135 Hixson Pike in the early Hixson shopping center developed and owned by the Pete Austin family.

Other shopping center tenants at that time included Kay’s Kastles ice cream store, Rexall drug store on the corner with a lunch counter, Hixson Hardware, and Pickler’s shoe store, among others.

An old newspaper article said the Hixson Redford’s I remember opened there in late 1964 in what was a former Hodge Furniture store. It had earlier been in smaller space in that shopping center two doors down and was consolidated with another store in the Rivermont Shopping Center.

The manager of the Hixson store at the time was apparently kind of a pioneering businesswoman – Mrs. Murl Stanford.

The Hixson Redford’s site today is occupied by Bethel Thrift Store.

When the Redford’s opened in 1969 at Brainerd and Germantown roads as the chain’s largest store and was to be managed by Mr. Pierce, it was the 33rd the chain had opened. The 12,000-foot-store was in a former Woolworth’s between Kroger and Eckerd Drugs.

Redford’s had earlier operated two stores in that part of town just east of Missionary Ridge, and another closer to Germantown Road.

Redford’s continued to do well after Mr. Redford’s retirement and his death at age 82 on Nov. 25, 1975, and subsequent burial at Forest Hills Cemetery.

But changes were unfortunately afoot for Redford’s, as often seems to be the case in the retail and business world.

In the 1960s, such businesses as Zayre’s and Kmart had moved into Chattanooga, and then the later arrival of Walmart on a widescale basis in small towns where Redford’s had been eventually spelled trouble, as it did for countless other businesses.

“We knew it was going to affect our prices, but we had service, and the managers were local and knew the people, and the people knew them,” Mr. Pierce recalled, giving such examples as store officials providing curb service to elderly customers, or helping a sight-impaired person pick out greeting cards.

However, prices became more important than personal service, despite Redford’s efforts to stay competitive and offer equally low costs, and the changes eventually affected the store. As a result, many were forced to close beginning around 1979 or 1980 after declaring bankruptcy and after other retail chains had moved into the area.

A Chattanooga newspaper article from 1983 said that the store chain’s remaining 17 stores were sold that year to Variety Wholesalers under the guidance of U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Mr. Pierce – who also became known for wearing eye-catching and colorful outfits after noticing the comments he would receive – went on to work with Vincent Decorating, with a travel agency, with his home church of First-Centenary United Methodist, and as a trip coordinator and planner. He and Rickie are also known as avid supporters of UTC athletics.

All his experiences have been interesting, he said, but getting to be involved with Redford’s was very enjoyable and special for him.

“I enjoyed the people and the salesforce and had good relationships with the employees,” he said.

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