Milestone – a tribute to our long-lasting enterprises
Smith & James is more than just your grandfather’s clothing store. It’s also a one-stop shop for millennials searching for classic menswear. At least that’s what the 100-year-old business is trying to convey with its latest renovations and styles.
In March, manager Brandon Price decided it was time to upgrade his father’s 2,500-square-foot clothing store. It hadn’t changed since opening in 1916.
“It’s about evolving and bringing in a younger crowd. But it’s also about retaining our unique approach to menswear,” Price said.
While the store’s exterior sits untouched, the inside reflects a new business model. However, evolving for the modern age required three months of hard labor.
The store’s carpet was replaced with hardwoods; fresh gray paint appeared on the walls; clothing cabinets replaced the crowded floor stands; and antique iron rails were installed to hold countless amounts of apparel.
Remodeling also brought a change in layout. The store’s selection of ties, bow ties, coats, trousers and custom clothing were moved to the back of the store. And cabinets and racks filled with sportswear sit at the front as well as a new fitting room.
“The world isn’t as formal anymore. That’s the kind of change we’re going through,” said Price. “The biggest change in this industry is the tailoring.”
Behind the scenes is Chip Bittner, the tailor extraordinaire who joined the team in 2000.
“Suits are our lifeblood. If you can’t touch it and feel it in the store, I’ll come to you and tailor a modern fit in fifteen minutes. That’s why we’re the total package,” Bittner said.
The ever-changing world of fashion has never deterred the old-school store from its passion: one-of-a-kind brands that are mostly American-made. The store has garnered a diverse inventory that includes Barbour apparel, Allen Edmonds dress shoes and more.
The store’s freshly painted, modern presentation melded with its selection of custom fit, American-made apparel is being noticed by customers and business leaders.
“I bought my first suit from there when I turned 10 years old,” said Greer lawyer Ronnie Bruce. “The Price family took men’s clothing to a new level. But I love the way they’ve renovated. It broke the monotony of the store.”
“Downtown Greer prides itself on its sense of history and community while also being exciting and vibrant, and the Smith & James remodel encapsulates this spirit,” said Kyle Mensing, commercial development director for the Greer Development Corporation.
While the store has caught up with the modern age, it hasn’t forgotten its roots. Many of its antique furniture pieces, such as a handmade tie cabinet, have remained.
The store’s history is embedded in those remaining pieces of furniture.
Building a family business
Greer resident Thomas Smith founded the store in 1916 as Smith and Vaughn at 228 Trade St. in downtown Greer.
Don James, a local physician, purchased a share of the business in 1919, leading to the name change. However, Smith purchased James’ share and moved the store to 222 Trade St. in 1924. Smith’s nephew Paul Smith Sr. joined the team in 1934.
And then there was Bernard Price — father of current manager Brandon Price — a young man looking to delve into the world of retail. He became a sales associate alongside Paul Smith Jr. in 1961. In 1979, after years of learning the business, Bernard Price purchased 25 percent of the store.
A few days after the purchase, Paul Smith Sr. died during an open-heart surgery. His death left Price and Paul Smith Jr. as partners.
It was the start of a family business.
“My sister and I grew up in the business,” said Brandon Price. “You eat, sleep and breathe the business your family owns. So it’s no surprise that we got into the retail business.”
In 1986, Bernard Price helped his daughter, Tara, open a women’s clothing store — Chelsea’s — upon graduating college. Price’s wife left her banking job to help manage the store.
Chelsea’s was planted right beside Smith & James on Trade Street. In 1989, a second location was opened on Woodruff Road.
In 1992, Smith Jr. lost interest in his father’s store and urged Bernard Price to purchase his shares of Smith & James. He did, further establishing his name in the local retail industry.
Meanwhile, Brandon Price enrolled at the University of South Carolina in 1993 and became a sales associate at Lourie’s clothing store. In 1997, he graduated and returned home to join his father’s business as a manager.
“He never pushed me into the family business. I was always a people person and loved fashion. So it was no-brainer,” said Price. “I remember graduating and playing golf the day after. But then I started the job. Some people go on sabbatical. I went to work.”
Price has managed the store through the good and bad, often choosing to evolve rather than be buried as other small businesses have in the past.
As Chelsea’s in Greenville began to lose business, Price started to draw up plans to save his sister’s dream. In 2005, he and his father decided to open a second Smith & James, sharing the 2,100-square-foot space housing Chelsea’s.
However, the shared space wasn’t tailored to the sudden influx of Greenville customers.
In 2011, Smith & James of Greenville relocated to a 4,300-square-foot space at The Shops at Greenridge. Price and his father remodeled the entire space.
The business has continued to flourish in both locations.
“I think it’s the people here that make Smith & James what it is,” said Price. “This is a career for all of us. This isn’t just a job. We love men’s clothing and people. That’s what sets us apart. And the things we carry have stories behind them.”
“A whole different world”
Bernard Price has semi-retired since opening the Greenville store. Now, he manages finances and watches his son curate a future for the family business. However, his contributions to the Greer community haven’t gone unnoticed.
In 2014, the store was awarded the Mayor’s Award at the Small Business of the Year celebration in Greer. And in 2016, Price was awarded the Sen. J. Verne Smith Award for “leadership and service to the Greater Greer Area.”
Smith & James joins an exclusive club with its 100-year anniversary. Greer businesses such as Wood’s Mortuary, McClesky Todd Pharmacy and Suber’s Corn Mill are more than 90 years old. Smith & James is the second-oldest business in Greer.
That status has created local business growth.
“Being able to point to a business that has survived and thrived in a downtown setting for 100 years, especially in the retail sector, is definitely a selling point for potential businesses looking in the area,” Mensing said.
As customers step foot in the new-and-improved Smith & James, they might also notice the store’s efforts to prepare for future fashion.
“It’s a whole different world of retail. So we’re going to keep looking for new clothing lines that combine our style with modern needs. But we just want to strive forward,” said Price. “This remodeling project is just a sign of that. We’re not going anywhere.”
100 years with Smith & James
1916: Thomas Smith founds Smith & Vaughn clothing store at 228 Trade St. in downtown Greer.
1919: Local physician Don James purchases a share of the business, leading to the name change to Smith & James.
1924: Smith purchases back James’ share, moves store to 222 Trade St.
1934: Smith’s nephew Paul Smith Sr. joins the team.
1961: Bernard Price and Paul Smith Jr. start work as sales associates.
1979: Price buys 25 percent of the business; Paul Smith Sr. dies, leaving Price and Smith Jr. as partners in the store.
1991: Smith sells his share of the business to Price.
1997: Bernard Price’s son, Brandon Price, joins the store as manager.
2005: Store opens Greenville location on Woodruff Road.
2011: Greenville store expands into 4,300-square-foot space on Woodruff Road.
2016: Smith & James, the second-oldest business in Greer, celebrates 100th anniversary.