millerstoday

Click the images for full size

We do not normally do news. But this news is historic. Winston-Salem’s fourth oldest downtown retail business, Miller’s Variety Store, is closing. If that actually happens, the new rank of downtown retail businesses will become:

Aaron – Elliott  1928  (originally Elliott Brothers Gun and Locksmiths)

Benbow – Beck  1929  (also originally gun and locksmiths)

Camel Pawn Shop  1930

Lefkowitz Tailors  1934

City Beverage  1947

Recreation Billiards  1947

Lighthouse Grill 1954

opening1928

Miller’s opened at 608 North Trade Street in 1931. This pic is almost certainly the reopening two years later at 620 North Trade, where the store would remain until the mid-1980s.

According to his death certificate, Henry J. Miller, Jr. was born November 11, 1883 in Liverpool, England to Henry J. Miller, Sr. His mother’s name is unknown.  His family moved to New York around 1890. He died in Winston-Salem on January 16, 1950 of a heart attack.

henryjmillerjr

Henry J. Miller, Jr.

Ella Goldstein was born on November 12, 1890 to Yella Nechavita and Jacob Goldstein in Philadelphia. She died in Winston-Salem October 9, 1980. On August 19, 1906 she married Henry Miller in Atlantic City, NJ. She was just 15 years old. Their first child, Bessie was born in October, 1907 in Atlantic City. By April, 1910 they were living at 401 West 8th Street in Charlotte, where Henry worked in his father’s tailor shop at 18 West Trade Street.
They remained in Charlotte until September, 1920, when Henry leased a space above Frank A. Stith’s menswear shop on the square in Winston-Salem. Henry had an arrangement with Stith to do his tailoring, while operating a separate tailored-to-measurement business.
stithad1922
Ella plunged immediately into the local social world. That same month she was one of the four hostesses for a Jewish Relief Society fundraiser at the Palm Room in the Zinzendorf Hotel. Her name would appear in the newspapers repeatedly over the next few years in reference to civic activities.
In 1926, Henry opened his own shop above the United Cigar Store, but that was short-lived. In the spring of 1927, he entered another arrangement, this time with Hine-Bagby menswear.
hinebagbyspring1927
In 1928/29, Ella opened the Miller Hosiery Company, a womenswear store at 131 East Third Street. Finally, in 1931, Ella and Henry opened Miller’s, men’s clothing, at 608 North Trade Street, a building that had formerly been the home of a variety of companies, including Nathan Katzin’s clothing store. Ella ran the new business. Henry continued his tailoring shop. Two years later, Miller’s moved just up the street to 620 North Trade. For half a century they had as their next door neighbor Nathan Sosnik’s Department Store at 622 North Trade. Sosnik’s closed in the late 1970s. A few years later Miller’s made its final move into the former Sosnik’s space space.
storefront1928

Over the years, virtually all of the Miller’s children worked in the store. In the 1940 US census listing as of April 18 of that year, Henry and Ella, along with three of the children, Bess, Julius and Robert, are listed as working in the store, with Julius designated as proprietor. By the end of the year, the annual city directory showed Bess as the proprietor. Eventually, Robert and his wife Natalie would become the co-proprietors of  Miller’s Variety Store.

ellamiller

Natalie Miller

natalierobert

Robert Miller and his sister Bess. Cole Brothers circus poster on the wall.

Under Robert and Natalie, Miller’s became the first white owned business in the city to welcome integrated shopping, and offered credit to both black and white customers, a matter objected to by many whites. But Robert and Natalie were Jewish and believed that all people should be treated the same. That has never changed at Miller’s.

nataliec1950

Natalie serving customers, c. 1950

Over the years, the clientele of the store changed, but the Millers changed with them. When Hush Puppies shoes were introduced in 1958, Miller’s became one of the first stores in North Carolina to carry them. In the 1960s, Miller’s became widely know as THE place for the newly popular blue jeans and cowboy boots, a pair of each of which were purchased there by Emmylou Harris when she was still an unknown drama student at Women’s College in Greensboro. In 1968, Playboy Magazine listed Miller’s as a cool place to shop.

rhythmrittenhouse

Rhytm Method & Rittenhouse Square are said to have shopped at Miller’s

Another famous customer was eight year old Michael Jackson and the rest of the Jackson Five, whose tour bus broke down right in front of the store. And the Drifters sang “Under the Boardwalk” along with the radio while shopping there.

sacredirony

We are told that Sacred Irony had a charge account at Miller’s

The first bell bottoms in the Triad were sold there. In the late 1960s into the 1980s, rockers shopped there for their stage outfits. As one band member said “I mean where else could you have gotten cream and maroon patent leather platform shoes outside of Carnaby Street?” Disco “players”, wanting to emulate John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”, went there looking for their “digs” to wear to local clubs where they could dance the night away to Donna Summer tunes.

platformshoes

In recent times, Miller’s has become known as a source of retro fashion, such as saddle oxfords and pork pie and Panama hats. For many, the closing of the store will leave an empty place in the heart of the Arts District, and the history of the Twin City.

myletmural

This mural across Trade Street from Miller’s was created by Marianne DiNapoli Mylet. At the left we see Fulton Allen, better known as “Blind Boy Fuller”, the progenitor of Carolina blues, who often played on the streets of the Camel City’s tobacco district in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Advertisements