This week may be its last for Phillips Variety

Wendell Phillips meandered around the display cases at Phillips Variety in downtown Alpharetta, stopping here and there to finger the balls of yarn, zippers, candy, toys, clothes and tools his mother sold over 57 years.

“This,” he said, “is a time warp.”

A crochet pattern book, copyright 1972, sells for 35 cents. A collection of costume jewelry from the 1950s is spread out in a flat basket with pieces starting at 29 cents. Dubble Bubble gum goes three pieces for a nickel. In the toy room in back, Thumbelina and Chatty Patty dolls stand on a shelf waiting to enchant little girls from a previous decade.

But something has changed at Phillips Variety. On July 19, Ermine “Dimp” Phillips died at the age of 91. Thursday was Wendell Phillips’ first visit to the store since his mother’s death, and the smell and feel of the shop made him remember the Easter baskets she wrapped, the keys she ground, the ever-popular candy counter.

Now the Phillips family is trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff.

Starting today, Wendell Phillips’ wife, Nancy, and family friend Liz Greenwood plan to open up the store this week so old customers can buy a little piece of nostalgia.

After that, “we have no idea,” Wendell Phillips said.

“Mother was a born merchandiser,” said Phillips, 67, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Roswell. She stopped coming to the store three and a half weeks before she died.

Viewed from the highway and main roads, Alpharetta is a sprawling city beside Georgia 400 dotted with glass office buildings and populated by corporate gypsies. But it started as a small country town, hints of which are preserved in Phillips Variety.

Ermine Phillips and her sister Ruth opened the store at another spot on Milton Street in 1952, when few women owned their own businesses. Phillips Variety was famous among children for the blowout Christmas toy display in the basement.

“That’s where the chemistry sets and the airplane models were,” said Arthur Letchas, 64, Alpharetta’s mayor. “About every Thursday they’d get a new supply of toys. As soon as that station wagon came in there I’d be waiting to see what came in.”

In the early 1980s Ermine Phillips moved to a new spot across Milton Street. Her business shrank when Wal-Mart and Kmart took root and the old wholesale suppliers folded. For the past decade or so, Phillips Variety was more hobby than business, and for the past year and a half it was only open three days a week.

Greenwood, who helped Phillips in the store, said most customers were “her friends, old Alpharetta, mainly the women to buy the Dixie Bell underwear.”

Several pairs of white “granny panties” are strung up at eye level to attract customers. Phillips penciled the price, $2.97 per pair, on each box. Nearby, Town Topic boys’ shirts from the 1960s sell for $1.59 each. She didn’t do much to update the merchandise — or the prices.

Whatever happens to the store’s inventory, Phillips Variety will leave a hole in Alpharetta when it’s gone.

In the words of Letchas: “There’s nothing like it in this day and time.”