New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Marcia Rudley can’t help but smile when she remembers the glory days of Long Avenue.
“It was booming,” the one-time New Castle High teacher recalled from her childhood memories. “There were so many stores. We had everything – grocery stories, the theater, the little restaurants.
“It was just people everywhere.”
Now, one of the last legacies of that era is about to disappear. Jimm’s Department Store, which opened nearly nine decades ago at 109 E. Long Ave. and for the past five years has been in Westgate Plaza, is about to close its doors, perhaps as soon as the end of October.
Rudley, the third generation of the Jimm family to own and operate the business, is moving with her husband to Texas to be nearer her son and brand-new granddaughter.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said of the impending move. “The store has been in my blood all my life. I remember my mother saying that she was a baby when the store opened, and she would have been 89 this year.”
Jimm’s was founded by Rudley’s grandparents, who would walk the neighborhood with their wares to make a sale.
“Their firstborn was my Aunt Jenny,” Rudley noted. “She got in a car, put the clothes in with her, and she would go around and sell that way. She had quite a clientele from all around.
“A lot of people still know the store today as Jenny Jimm’s, even though she’s been gone a long time.”
Jenny’s sisters, Josephine and Norma (Rudley’s mother) also worked in the store, and it was Josephine who owned it when Rudley moved back to the area after teaching school for four years in Florida.
“She had a stroke,” Rudley explained, “and when she passed, she gave me the store to run.”
Rudley had been doing some substitute teaching at the time, but said it wasn’t a difficult decision to give up her classroom career altogether and return to Jimm’s.
“It was a family tradition,” she said. “I was born and raised in that store. I’d been waiting on customers since I was yay high.”
Nowadays, the name “department store” seems a little over the top for Rudley’s two-room storefront in Westgate Plaza. But it wasn’t always that way.
“Back when they started the business, my aunt had everything from draperies to rugs to clothing,” she said. “It was like a little department store; you could come in and find whatever you wanted. Our slogan was, ‘If you can’t find it, you haven’t been to Jimm’s.’
“She packed everything into that little store, and it was 9 to 9, Monday through Saturday because they lived right in the back. When she was cooking, people would come in and say, ‘What is that wonderful smell?’ and she would invite them in for coffee and dessert.”
That kind of service is surely lacking from modern-day department stores. However, the volume business they do forced Jimm’s to make some adjustments in order to survive from 89 years.
“I tried to specialize – sell the things that Walmart doesn’t sell,” Rudley said. “Things like communion dresses, christening dresses, mother of the bride, cocktail dresses, specialty children’s wear. We don’t have the room we had down there.”
Rudley and Jimm’s haven’t been “down there” since 2007, when her store was robbed at knifepoint. Her father’s family owns Westgate Plaza, so it was a natural place for her to relocate.
Still, not every Jimm’s customer has to find her way to Union Township.
“My son, who is a computer person in Texas, put us on the web, so I’ve done a lot of shipping out,” she said. “A lot of people who have left New Castle remember getting their communion dresses or their christening dresses here, and they ordered from the website.
“You’d be surprised, they don’t have communions dresses everywhere as fancy as we have them in New Castle. I did a nice business that way.”
The Jimm family’s retail presence won’t end when Rudley locks her doors for the final time. Her cousin, Dianne Jimm, operates a boutique on Wilmington Road and is celebrating 25 years in business.
Meanwhile, Jimm’s Department Store itself just might find new life on the streets of San Antonio.
“We’re hoping it’s not the end of the line for the store,” Rudley said. “I just may take it down there with me, and give my daughter-in-law something to do. She’s in retail down there, she was a manager at the outlets.
“This way she can work,” Rudley added with a laugh, “and I can play with the baby.”