By Jill Vejnoska
‘RICH’S: A SOUTHERN INSTITUTION’
From the Hungarian “Reich” brothers’ arrival in America in 1859 to the day in 2005 that the “Rich’s” name finally disappeared from the last store here, Jeff Clemmons’ book provides a detail-rich look at the retail empire that was inextricably linked to Atlanta’s growth and public image over 138 years. Here’s a small sampling:
- After deciding in 1964 that the Pink Pig Flyer had “run its course” as a Christmas season attraction, Rich’s sold the pig-shaped monorail to a Midwestern amusement park. A year later, the store had to buy it back.
- The Great Tree’s debut in 1948 took place atop the newly erected “Crystal Bridge” that spanned Forsyth Street and connected the main store with Rich’s Store for Homes. Because the state owned air rights over streets, the Georgia Legislature had to pass a special act before the four-story, enclosed pedestrian bridge could be built.
- On Oct. 19, 1960, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other black protesters were denied service at Rich’s Bridge Cafe. King and others next tried to enter the all-white Magnolia Room. Arrested under Georgia’s recently passed anti-trespass law, they were refused bail in Atlanta Municipal Court and jailed; it was the first night that the future Nobel Peace Prize winner ever spent in jail.
- Just four years later, Rich’s was there to provide personal attention for a very special customer: Sol Kent, the store’s fashion director, helped King’s wife, Coretta, select clothes to wear when her husband accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
- During the Depression, Atlanta issued municipal workers “scrip” — promissory notes it hoped local merchants would accept with the understanding that the city would eventually pay them back. In December 1930, Rich’s went one step better, setting up five booths where Atlanta’s schoolteachers could cash their scrip at face value without having to buy anything at the store. By Dec. 20, Rich’s had paid out over $260,000 to 1,500 teachers — and, Clemmons writes, turned them and their families into loyal customers for years to come.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Jeff Clemmons will make the following appearances to discuss and sign copies of “Rich’s: A Southern Institution.”
10 a.m. Dec. 1. Barnes & Noble — Town Center Prado, 50 Barrett Parkway, Marietta. 770-422-2261, www.barnesandnoble.com
1 p.m. Dec 1. Marietta Museum of History, 1 Depot St., Suite 200, Marietta. 770-794-5710, www.mariettahistory.org
5:30 p.m. Dec. 4. DeKalb History Center, 101 E. Court Square, Decatur. 404-373-1088, www.dekalbhistory.org
6 p.m. Dec. 11. Norcross Welcome Center, 189 Lawrenceville St., Norcross. 678-421-2049, www.norcrossga.net