During my 30-plus years at The Herald, I often gazed out the newspaper office’s second-story windows into Sylva’s past.
A look across Main Street revealed the names of businesses that once thrived downtown, including The Paris, a clothing establishment where Sylvans shopped for the latest fashions almost a century ago. The building is now the home of Sylva Market and Signature Brew.
Most of what I’ve learned about The Paris over the years came from Rachel Phillips, an amazing local historian (and mother of Herald Sports Editor Carey Phillips) who died in 2014.
Abe Simons opened the clothing store around 1917. The Paris carried the latest fashions, and Rachel said she always figured Simons called the store after Paris, France, because it was known as a fashion center. Simons, who lived in a house on Jackson Street that later belonged to Bart Cope (the house sat in part what is now the First Methodist Church parking lot), operated his business in Sylva for 10 or 12 years and then moved his store to Bryson City.
Postcards shared with The Herald in 2009 depict the one-time thriving Main Street store decorated for Christmas, and Rachel told me she remembered how festive the store and its Christmas bells looked during the holiday season.
“Everybody decorated, but not like Mr. Simons,” she said, adding that she thinks her father, E.E. Brown, who worked at the Jackson County Journal before starting The Ruralite (The Sylva Herald’s forerunner), got some ideas for decorating their home from The Paris.
According to Rachel, Simons started his store in one building and then expanded next door into the space most recently occupied by Hooker’s Fly Shop and separated his men’s and ladies’ departments. He had a “bargain basement” that featured a cheaper line of clothing as well as costume jewelry and rings.
“He seemed to do a good business,” Rachel said. “There was no Schulman’s back then – the only other clothing store was Sylva Supply.”
Sylva Supply, started by early industrialist C.J. Harris, whose name is still visible on its former building, operated on Main Street for right at 100 years; Jackson’s General Store is currently in that location. Sol Schulman, a downtown mainstay until shortly before his death in 2003, opened his clothing store in 1933. Schulman’s was located in what’s now Harry Alter Books.
Longtime Jackson County Register of Deeds Glenn Hughes worked for Simons at one time as manager of the men’s department at The Paris, Rachel said. She also remembered a trip to Simons’ Bryson City store when she was around 10 or 11 years old. Her daddy took her there and bought her two new dresses because Simons owed him money for printing. Those new dresses were special because up until that time Rachel had mostly worn her older sister Margaret’s hand-me-downs.
In addition to The Paris, Rachel’s memories included another dress shop – Hale’s – that opened a couple of years before Simons moved to Bryson City.
“Maybe Mr. Simons’ business wasn’t quite as good after Sadie Hale came here,” Rachel said.
Though Sadie Hale kept her store (likely located in what is now the Friends of the Library’s Used Bookstore) in Sylva at least until 1941, she eventually moved to Waynesville, where her store was still called Hale’s. Sadie Hale first married E.M. Hale, who worked with Rachel’s father at the Journal, and later married Charlie Reeves, keeping the name “Hale’s” for her store.
Thinking back on Hale’s, Rachel told me about an incident connected to the election in 1928. Back in those days the main way to find out about election results was from Western Union, and there were three or four places in Sylva – including Hale’s – where people would gather to wait for returns to come in. On that election night, Rachel and her sister Margaret, who was five years older, were allowed to go to their father’s “print shop,” where The Ruralite was published, to see what was going on with the voting.
When they started down the steps to their father’s shop, which was located downstairs in what’s now Arsenal Artifacts, they were frightened by a loud “Mooo” that came from someone’s loose cow.
Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.