Lamar's Clothing closing after 60 years in Austell
by Marcus E. Howard
mhoward@mdjonline.com
March 15, 2010 12:00 AM | 3827 views | 1 1 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marlin Lamar Jr. stands in the clothing alterations workshop, where he spends most his time.
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AUSTELL - After 60 years in business, the family owned Lamar's Clothing in downtown Austell is going out of business.

Since the store opened in 1950, there have been a lot of fashion changes. However, the changing shopping habits of the past few generations have left the once thriving business lagging behind the retail trend in shopping malls. Furthermore, owner Ruth Lamar was diagnosed with colon cancer in January.

"At 88 years old, she had been working five days a week as just something to do," said her son, Marlin Lamar.

These days Ruth spends most of her time at her Austell home. Her health has been better than expected, her son said. The same, however, can't be said of the store that had been the center of her life.

She gladly carried on the business started by her late husband, M. L. Lamar Sr., who died in 1999. The store - which has occupied its current location at 2785 Jefferson St. for more than 30 years - offers men and women's apparel. Lamar's has also been supplying Levi's jeans to some of the same customers for more than 40 years. Today, the store's inventory accommodates its mostly senior customers.

Lamar's is expected to close its doors sometime after May, Marlin said. It's currently conducting a storewide going out of business sale.

"The store has been an institution for many years," said former Austell Mayor John Collar.

Sales clerk Betty Williamson, 76, has worked at Lamar's for a decade, since she retired from Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. She has known the Lamar family since she moved to Austell in the early 1960s. In the following decades up until the 1990s, Lamar's was known around town as the place to shop, she said. Generations went there to purchase clothing, shoes and other items for the entire family.

"They were real busy back in the old days," Williamson said as her eyes wondered across the aging building. "Not like the modern days now."

It's no secret among the handful of employees and the rest of Austell why the once steady stream of business at Lamar's has declined to a trickle.

"We know it's the emergence of the big box stores," Marlin, 56, said while sitting at the sewing machine where he does alterations, a big part of the store's business in recent years.

"We have development - the East-West Connector, Douglasville mall, Hiram is developing and then peoples' shopping habits have changed. The younger folks don't come in."

For 16 years, Jim Graham has been the city of Austell's director of community affairs. He remembered M.L. Lamar as a smart and successful businessman. However, he acknowledged that the impact of malls and big box stores like Wal-mart and Kohl's was bigger than many small retail businesses in the area could withstand.

"When the malls came into play, small merchants in the small towns really had to be creative to get business to come to their establishments," Graham said.

Creative, smart and personable are words that have been used to described M.L. Lamar, a Temple native. The M.L. Lamar Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually to a deserving resident by the Austell Business Association, which he also founded in 1953.

Before moving to Austell and opening Lamar's, M.L. Lamar co-owned a clothing store of the same name with his brother in Arizona following World War II. He returned to Georgia and opened more stores.

In Austell, M.L. Lamar opened a series of apparel stores. During the 1970s and '80s, Lamar's stores took up an entire block of downtown Austell. Today, the only piece of Lamar's that remains is the 6,000-square-foot building he had built for Lamar's Clothing in the 1950s.

"At one time we had the ladies store across the street, the men's store here, a shoe store here and a cloth shop," said Marlin, who as a child worked at the store. "But, understand that was before shopping centers and urban sprawl."

As shopping malls cut into its business, personal service developed into Lamar's trademark.

"You always felt welcomed. Somebody was always ready to help you," said Barbara Griswell, 79, of Mableton. She has shopped at Lamar's since 1956. Griswell remembered first meeting Ruth, a longtime friend, in the store when she informed her that her middle name was Ruth.

"She said, 'Bring your pocket book back here and sit down with me,'" Griswell said. "She'd hem up a pair of my husband's slacks for me and say, 'Come back up here anytime and talk to me.'"

Jeff Hogan, 46, of Marietta, remembered Lamar's as the place his parents bought his clothes, after they moved from nearby Clarkdale to Powder Springs in 1965.

"This is where we'd buy all my school clothes," Hogan said. "Folks back then had credit. I remember there was a receipt book up there and it had a carbon copy in it. They'd write down what you got. They kept a copy and you got a copy. It was like having layaway except you got to take your stuff with you."

A nearby antique shop plans to move into the Lamar's Clothing building once the store closes. Marlin said the family would continue to own the building. His sister, Margaret Miller, already owns a massage clinic close by, however Marlin said he wasn't sure what he will do.

In a 2003 interview, Ruth told the Journal that she enjoyed interacting with the people who came into the store.

"We have families that have four generations that's been shopping with us," she said. "We built our business on quality."
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Tim Taylor
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March 16, 2010
I worked for them for 10 years before moving to Florida in the late '70's. They treated me like family, and you'll never meet better people than the Lamars.

It's sad to see the store closing. Austell will be worse off because of it.
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