Iconic store to call it quits
For more than half a century, Allen's Antiques on Broadway Street in Lenoir City has weathered more than a few economic storms as a once bustling corridor flounders amid outpaced growth along Highway 321.
Although the shop's owner, Edelphia "PeeWee" Allen, 88, seems reluctant to finally lock the doors, her infectious personality and upbeat spirit can't erase reality.
"Don't use that calculator," she said jokingly when considering how many years she has been in business on Broadway.
"She's been talking about it for years," her grandson, Joby Allen, said.
"A little word called 'A-G-E's' making me go out of business," PeeWee said.
PeeWee got in the retail business when she and her late husband, Rayburn, moved to Lenoir City in the mid-1940s after Rayburn's service in World War II. The couple initially developed a partnership to buy the W.K. Freeman store, later renaming it All-Better's Department Store.
"It was right after the war, and we had just bought a new Chevrolet," PeeWee said. "It was hard to get a Chevrolet car back then because there was very few. We took that (car) back, got our money back and bought stock" in Freeman's store.
PeeWee and Rayburn became the sole owners of the business in 1955 and rebranded the shop as Allen's, Inc., and at one time the company featured two ladies apparel stores, a men's store, a children's shop and a shoe store. In 1984, the family liquidated the properties and established Allen's Antiques.
Next to Wilburn Hardware, Allen's is the longest standing retail business on Broadway Street.
"I told somebody the other day, I think I'll take that sign down and put me another one up that says, 'I changed up my mind. I don't think I'm going out of business,'" PeeWee said with a tinge of wistfulness. "It's sad. It makes me sad. Do you know that I've been unlocking that door over there 65 years? Now, that's how sad it is."
Helen Shipley, whose family runs Wilburn Hardware, said she has known PeeWee since the Allens moved to town in the mid-20th century.
"It's been a gathering place," Shipley said about Allen's Antiques. "And then she's had things we needed and some things we didn't need, but we wanted."
Shipley said Allen's closure was going to be a sad day in Lenoir City. "Yes it is. Very much so, and I'm sure there will be a lot of other people in town (who feel) the same way."
Shipley said Wilburn Hardware opened in the mid-1930s. The store began on First Avenue before moving to Broadway Street. She said the antique store property was a hotel before the Allen's moved into the corner lot. Apartment space is located on the second floor.
"It's a beautiful place, or it was when they first opened up," Shipley said.
PeeWee said grandson, Joby, and son, Joe Dorsey, were helping her appraise furniture in the store and finish paperwork. She did not know the exact date she planned to close the doors.
PeeWee described her experience working at Allen's Antiques as a "wonderful journey" serving the public in Lenoir City.
"I've said it a million times," she said. "You can't make customers out of your friends, but boy, you can make friends out of your customers. Some of the dearest friends I have were made from being a customer. Now, son, that's the truth."
Significantly, she has decided to close up shop around Mother's Day. She had a sister who died in 1987, and Rayburn died in May 1997. Her son, Chip Allen, died in May 2007. All three passed away about the same time 10 years apart.
"We just buried him like 48 hours before," Joby said recounting a story after Chip's death. "She never says bad words, and this day, she said, 'They picked a hell of a day to have Mother's Day,' so there's a little bit of humor in that."
"If you did not laugh you could not handle what life dished out to you," PeeWee added. "You have to laugh, and you have to forgive and move on."
PeeWee said she has received numerous letters from longtime customers thanking her for her service in Lenoir City. At those times, she admits to reconsidering her decision.
"When I get letters like that that's when I want to take my sign down," PeeWee said.
"This goes in the paper. There's not going to be any backing out," Joby warned.