Third-generation Lexington clothier Carl Meyers expands his shop

June 7, 2015
Carl Meyers, whose family has been a clothing retailer in Lexington since 1920, is expanding his upscale women's wear shop on Clay Street.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Carl Meyers, whose family has been a clothing retailer in Lexington since 1920, is expanding his upscale women’s wear shop on Clay Street. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Every time Carl Meyers thinks he is retiring from the clothing business, a new opportunity comes up.

That’s what happened five years ago when Meyers, 63, moved back from New York and opened what he planned as a temporary shop at 111 Clay Ave. for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Instead of closing at the end of the Games, the shop became Carl Meyers Sophisticated Style for Ladies. He just finished doubling the shop’s size and will celebrate with an open house from 4 to 8 p.m. June 11.

“I just can’t seem to stop,” Meyers said. “I’ve always had retail in me.”

His grandfather, Emanuel Meyers, was one of 11 sons of a Louisville vest tailor. In 1920, he and his brother Edward moved to Lexington to sell World War I Army surplus from a store on North Mill Street.

Much of their business was selling surplus khaki pants and boots to horse farmers. Through that, they got to know a lot of saddle horse people and eventually began making and selling custom riding apparel.

From 1938 to 1967, Meyers’ was on West Main Street beside Purcell’s department store. Carl Meyers’ parents, Marvin and Sydelle, burnished the brand with fine men’s and women’s clothing. In 1967, the store moved further east on Main Street, to the corner of what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard.

“They had just terrific taste,” Meyers said. “My mother ran the designer department and my father was the menswear guy.”

From childhood, Meyers seemed destined to be a retailer.

“I was ‘selling’ out of my mother’s attic when I was like 6 years old,” he said. “I had a little store with a little cash register up there. All of our friends would come up and ‘buy’ something.”

A few years later, Meyers started hanging around the riding apparel tailors at the Main Street store, learning about sewing, patterns and suit construction. After earning a fine arts degree at Boston University, Meyers joined the business.

“Then downtown kind of went bust,” he said, as retailers went out of business or moved to the new suburban shopping malls.

Meyers’ opened stores in Fayette and Lexington malls, but the changing business landscape doomed them. The downtown store closed in 1982 and the mall stores followed two years later.

Carl Meyers then refocused on custom riding apparel from a shop he ran for two decades on Walton Avenue, later moving to Romany Road. His flair for adding style to traditional riding “habits” earned him an international clientele.

In 2007, Meyers decided to mostly retire. He moved to New York for three years to oversee the riding apparel factory and enjoy big-city life.

“When I was in New York, I worked with a lot of young designers who would come in and get their samples made through me,” he said. “I really enjoyed it a lot, but I wasn’t making a whole lot of money.”

He started a short-lived menswear line with Crittenden Rawlings, a Kentuckian who had been president of Oxxford Clothes, a prestigious men’s suit label. (Rawlings now has his own menswear line, which he sells at his store in Midway and at more than 40 other retailers around the country.)

Meyers eventually sold the factory to his former employees and moved back to Lexington to help care for his elderly mother, who died in 2013.

“I thought I had retired,” he said, but the store he opened for the Equestrian Games attracted a following. “The women I was dealing with liked what we were doing.”

Meyers soon started adding dresses to his sportswear lines. With the expansion, he will carry more designer clothing and add shoes and furs.

Clothing trends keep getting more casual. “But when people get dressed up today, they really want to do it right, like for Derby and other occasions,” he said. “That’s where we’re finding the growth in the business.”

At this point, Meyers has no plans to retire again. In fact, with his non-compete agreement up soon, he is thinking about getting back into riding apparel — so long as he doesn’t have to travel the horse show circuit again.

“I signed a five-year lease with another five year option, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “And there’s an upstairs here.”

 

Meyers' clothing store was at this Main Street location in Lexington from 1938 to 1967. Photo provided

Meyers’ clothing store was at this Main Street location in Lexington from 1938 to 1967.


As Sav’s owner recovers, family, friends keep restaurant going

June 10, 2014

140610Savs-TE0003Bangaly Savan頎, left, served lunch Tuesday to Steve Baron, owner of CD Central on South Limestone Street. Savan頎 has been running Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine at the corner of South Limestone and East Maxwell streets since his father, Mamadou Savan頎 burned himself badly while cooking June 3. Photos by Tom Eblen  

 

Mamadou “Sav” Savané learned to cook traditional West African food as a child in Guinea by watching his mother and sisters. The recipes were never written down. They were just in his head, until a few weeks ago.

That’s when the owner of Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine at 304 South Limestone started recording his recipes and teaching his son, Bangaly, how to cook them. His timing couldn’t have been better.

Savané was preparing a bigger-than-usual batch of peanut chicken stew for the lunch crowd on June 3 when the pot slipped from his hands as he pulled it off the stove, said his wife, Rachel.

savThe boiling liquid spilled all over Savané, causing second-degree burns over half his body and putting him in the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital’s intensive-care unit for five days. Savané is out of danger and could be released from the hospital as early as Wednesday. But he has a long recovery ahead.

“If this accident were two months ago, the restaurant would have closed, because nobody else could do it,” Rachel Savané said. “Our son, who turns 20 the day after Father’s Day, has stepped into his dad’s shoes, cooking everything, running the restaurant. I’m doing what I can to help, but he’s in charge.”

Other family and friends also have stepped forward to help, both at his restaurant and at her jewelry gallery, Savané Silver, 130 North Broadway.

At Sav’s Grill on Tuesday, Bangaly, his mother and his sister, Diaka, 15, were serving customers with help from employees and Youssouf Komara, who said he has been Savané’s best friend since they were 6 years old in Guinea. Komara traveled from Milwaukee, where he teaches middle school French and owns a restaurant and club.

“He’s a very good guy,” Komara said of Savané. A lot of Lexington people agree.

The business association Local First Lexington, Smiley Pete Publishing and others have organized a fundraiser to help Savané, who has medical insurance, cover additional business expenses. Within hours of launching the campaign Tuesday on Giveforward.com, the Feast of Love for Sav fund had collected more than $22,000.

The fundraiser includes an event 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at Smiley Pete’s offices, 434 Old Vine Street, with food and beverages from local businesses. Admission is $5.

“Apparently, Sav did the work of four people, seven days a week,” said Chuck Creacy, co-owner of Smiley Pete.

“I visited him in the hospital, and he’s as hurt as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Creacy said. “They’re going to need to hire help, because the worst thing he could do is go back to work before he’s fully recovered. We certainly want to make sure we don’t lose one of our unique local restaurants.”

The Savanés met while Rachel was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea in the early 1990s. They came to this country and married in 1993. She made jewelry, and he worked for UPS and the Hyatt Regency Lexington before turning his passion for cooking into a business.

He opened Sav’s Grill in September 2008, weathering both the nation’s financial crisis and the long reconstruction of South Limestone. In July 2012, Savané opened Sav’s Chill nearby to sell a friend’s homemade ice cream.

Savané has been a neighborhood leader and a strong supporter of Local First Lexington, said Steve Baron, the owner of CD Central down the street.

“He’s just one of those terrific, positive people,” Baron said as he stopped at Sav’s Grill for lunch Tuesday. “It’s so sad to see something like that happen.”

Steve Davis, who teaches African history at UK, was one of many regular customers who came in Tuesday for lunch and to sign a big get-well card. He said Savané has spoken to his classes about West African food traditions.

“He is so loved in this community,” said Debra Hensley, an insurance agent and a former Urban County Council member. “He is just a bundle of joy to be around.”

Bangaly Savané, who since graduating from Henry Clay High School in 2012 has worked at the restaurant and has begun studying to be a commercial pilot, said he and his family have been overwhelmed by the community’s support.

“One guy came in and broke down crying in front of me,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

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Logan’s of Lexington celebrates 50 years of family business success

May 26, 2014

Logans

Betty Logan and her sons Steve, left, and Elliot are marking Logan’s of Lexington’s 50th year. Logan’s was founded as a variety store in Midway by Betty’s husband, the late Harlan Logan, in 1964.Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Harlan and Betty Logan grew up in Lewis County, married at 18 and decided to go into business for themselves. Their first venture was a nine-stool diner in downtown in Nicholasville, and the work was exhausting.

Still, they managed to save $10,000 in five years. “We worked so many hours we didn’t have time to spend it,” she said.

The couple used their earnings to buy a variety store in Midway in 1964. There, they had the opposite problem: few customers. “We were very fortunate to hang in there,” she said.

In desperation, Harlan finally decided to refocus the store on fine clothing. It turned out to be a smart move. Logan’s of Lexington menswear is celebrating its 50th year in business and, the family says, doing better than ever.

Harlan Logan died in December at age 74, but most of his family remains involved in the business to some degree. Sons Steve, 46, and Elliot, 43, run the place with help from Betty and her three sisters, Judy, Pearl and Molly.

Elliot’s father-in-law, Wally Schmidt, works in the stock room. Elliot’s wife, Carol, and Steve’s wife, Misty, come in to help when needed.

“We have a very close family,” Elliot said.

Salesman Darrell McCarty has been with Logan’s for 22 years, and Jamie Burch has worked at the store for 14 years.

After Harlan decided to focus on high-end clothing in 1966, he traveled to New York City to get ideas for the store.

“He was always very progressive,” Elliot said. “He had a sixth sense about when a line was going to be hot or when something was going to be in fashion.”

The Midway store started attracting a regional clientele. “We had a lot of midnight sales,” Betty recalled. “We would have the whole town of Midway packed with cars.”

A Versailles warehouse store was added, then franchised stores in Georgetown and Nicholasville. Those closed in the late 1980s, and operations were moved and consolidated in Lexington’s Tates Creek Center in 1992.

“This has been our best location,” said Betty, but its small size prompted the family to drop women’s clothes and focus on menswear.

The store’s most memorable day came in January 2003. Just before Christmas, an elderly woman had come in looking for a shoehorn. Harlan gave her one, free of charge, adding that if her husband ever needed clothing she should bring him in. She did just that a few weeks later. By the time the couple finished shopping about 2:30 a.m., the cash register total was $35,600.

Small clothing stores have struggled in recent years. Men dress up less often for both work and pleasure, and independent retailers have been squeezed by big retail chains.

Lexington’s oldest menswear store, Graves, Cox & Co., began a going-out-of-business sale last week as owner Leonard Cox prepares to retire. His grandfather co-founded the business in 1888. Cox said two Georgia investors plan to open a men’s store in the same location, 325 West Main Street.

The Logan brothers said their business has stayed strong by diversifying and keeping up with trends. “We had a record year last year,” Elliot said. “This year has been even better.”

Although suits, sport coats and accessories are still the foundation of the business, high-end sportswear and “dress casual” clothing has become a growth area.

Steve has worked on marketing to University of Kentucky and Transylvania University students by using social media, attending fraternity events and recruiting a dozen students as campus representatives each semester.

“I’ve told those guys on campus, we were your dad’s store for a long time, but we’ve got a lot of things for you now if you come and take a look,” he said.

The store carries Southern Tide, a popular youth-oriented line of preppy clothing. Twice annual trunk shows pack the store with college men. “It’s great to see the next generation walking through your door,” Steve said.

Looking toward the future, Betty hopes some or all of her four granddaughters will be interested in keeping the business in the family. Steve has three daughters — Tori, Abby and Kailyn — and Elliot has one daughter, Taylor.

“Our days as a men’s store may be numbered,” Elliot said. “The future of Logan’s is probably a ladies’ shop.”


Fourth-generation McMahan Furniture rises from the ashes

March 31, 2014

140319McMahan0023Eugene McMahan, the third generation to operate his family’s business, does most of the wood-turning. Here he makes a finial for a four-poster bed. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

CAMPBELLSVILLE — It was a Friday afternoon and Patrick McMahan had just sprayed lacquer on a few pieces of furniture before heading out for a weekend camping trip. He switched on a fan to clear the fumes, “and the whole room blew up around me.”

“When I ran out, the guys in the back could see fire shooting over my head,” he said. “I could feel it on the back of my neck.”

The fan sucked flames into the attic, where they ignited years of accumulated sawdust. Before the burning ceiling collapsed, McMahan, his father, Eugene, and their employees waded through knee-deep water from firefighters’ hoses to rescue as much as they could of the top-quality furniture their family has been making for four generations.

Eugene McMahan & Son Furniture Co. burned to the ground within 45 minutes on Oct. 15, 2010. But a week and a half later, reconstruction began. Within four months, the largest of Campbellsville’s cherry furniture-makers was back in business.

140319McMahan0001Recovery has been tough because of the sluggish economy and furniture-buying trends. But the McMahans are exploring new products and sales venues, determined to continue the business Eugene’s grandfather and his eight sons started in the early 1940s.

Prized Kentucky antiques were becoming scarce in the 1930s, creating a market for reproduction furniture made of native cherry and walnut. Campbellsville became the center of that industry. At one point, McMahan Furniture had 38 workers. There were six other furniture-makers in town, too, a couple of them from branches of the McMahan family.

“Campbellsville cherry” became popular throughout the region. As textile factories came to small Kentucky towns in the 1960s, many women worked outside the home for the first time.

“They would save up enough money to buy a piece,” said Eugene’s wife, Linda McMahan. “And then they would come back and keep coming back until they got their whole home furnished. That’s mostly how it sold.”

But styles and circumstances change, and the number of Campbellsville cherry furniture shops has dwindled since the 1990s. McMahan Furniture is down to four full-time workers, including Patrick, who does the finishing, and Eugene, who selects the wood and does all of the turning. In addition, Linda keeps the books and Patrick’s wife, Leah, manages the website (Cvillecherry.com) and social media.

“Some people think we closed,” Eugene said. “They say, ‘I heard you all burned down.'”

One effort to rebuild the business is a new line of Shaker reproduction furniture and wooden gift items for Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. The company also is making furniture to refurbish rooms in some of the village’s early 1800s buildings.

140319McMahan0097The McMahans also hope to cash in on the popularity of mid-century modern furniture from the 1940s-60s. Patrick, 34, understands the trend. His house in Louisville is furnished with mid-century modern, and he and his wife have a business, The Retro Metro, that deals in the originals (Retrometro502.com).

Patrick recently designed several mid-century modern pieces for McMahan Furniture to produce. They look like originals, but the quality is better: solid walnut rather than veneer.

But he knows styles inevitably go in and out of fashion.

“When every TV commercial has mid-century furniture in it, you kind of know it’s on its way out,” he said. “It’s going to reach its peak and something else will turn around. But there’s always going to be a need for traditional.”

The McMahans make a lot of traditional cannonball and four-poster beds, chests of drawers, bookcase desks, drop-leaf tables, corner cupboards, sideboards and sugar chests. Their most popular pieces range in price from $1,100 to $3,500.

But about half their work is custom. People bring in pictures of something they have seen, or they want to copy a family piece they remember from childhood.

“We don’t charge any extra just to make it different,” Patrick said. “We charge you based on what it costs us to make it. If you’re a good furniture-maker, you should be able to sit down in a few minutes and figure out measurements.”

McMahan Furniture’s selling point has always been quality. Every piece is hand-crafted from solid Kentucky cherry and walnut using traditional joinery — mortise and tenon and dovetail joints. Modern lacquers make the wood virtually waterproof.

Linda said a New Orleans customer sent in a picture of her house after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

“It destroyed the house,” she said. “But there was our cannonball bed sitting in the middle of everything. It made it through.”

McMahan Furniture doesn’t take credit cards and doesn’t require deposits for custom work.

“We want to know they’re satisfied before they pay us,” Linda said. “We have never had a cold check in all those years. That says something for the type of people we deal with.”

Eugene just turned 73, but isn’t putting down his wood-turning chisels anytime soon. Patrick wants a career in the company, and for it to be around in case his 5-year-old son, Walt, wants to take over someday. “I’m not going to push him,” he said.

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After 49 years, family-owned Sonny’s Cleaners has another family

June 10, 2013

Sonnys

Tommy and Candy Hicks, center, whose family has owned Sonny’s Cleaners in Chevy Chase for nearly 50 years, introduced the new owner, Perry Carrico, left, to longtime customer Mary Reynolds. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Some of Tommy Hicks’ earliest memories are of watching the construction of his late father Sonny’s dry cleaning shop in Chevy Chase Shopping Center off South Ashland Avenue in 1964.

Hicks grew up working part-time at Sonny’s One-Hour Cleaners. When he graduated from Lexington Catholic High School in 1976, he switched to full-time. His wife, Candy, a 1976 Lafayette grad, joined the business after their three children were born.

It was a good life and living for many years, Candy Hicks said, “But when it became apparent that none of the kids was interested in taking over, we knew we had to do something.”

So, on May 31, the Hickses signed papers to sell their nearly 50-year-old family business.

“This has been the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” she said. “But as hard as it has been, at least we were able to pass it on to another family. We didn’t want to sell out to a big chain.”

The new owner is the Carrico family, which has owned and operated Springfield Laundry in Washington County since 1939. The two families already were well acquainted. The Hickses have always done dry cleaning and repairs in-house, but Springfield Laundry has done their washing for the past seven years.

All of the work will now be done in Springfield, with the Chevy Chase store functioning as a drop-off and pick-up location. Perry Carrico said he plans to continue calling the place Sonny’s Cleaners, although the “one-hour” will have to go.

Most importantly, Carrico said, he plans to continue the high level of personal service the Hickses have always provided.

“I just want their customers to know they’re going from good hands to good hands,” said Carrico, who has a similar location in Danville. “We’re small-town people.”

The Hickses spent last week helping the Carricos get settled and saying tearful goodbyes to their customers, some of whom have been bringing clothes here for decades to be cleaned and mended. The Hickses have even set up an email account for people to keep in touch with them: formerlysonnys@gmail.com.

The Hickses, who both turn 55 this year, said they will miss the daily interaction with customers, including several generations of some families. Those customers have come from all over Central Kentucky and as far away as Barbourville.

“I’ve gotten to know every one of them — their kids, where they work, where they go to church,” Candy Hicks said. “I like to be around people. This has been such a blessing.”

“We just always wanted to treat people like family,” Tommy Hicks added. “I guess it pays off to be nice.”

The Hickses will not miss their 60-hour-plus work weeks. Nor will they have to worry any more that customers might be inconvenienced if they take more than a long weekend for vacation.

“This has been a major blessing, but also a major commitment of work,” Candy Hicks said.

“Neither of us has had much leisure time since 1976,” Tommy Hicks added. “We just got out of high school and went to work.”

As with many family businesses, Sonny’s Cleaners has been integral to family life. The Hickses’ three children grew up working in the business, learning people skills and the value of hard work. But they have moved away from Lexington to pursue their own ambitions.

Matthew works in management for the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames River in England. Nicki and her husband live in Hamilton, Ohio. Ben works in insurance in St. Louis with his wife and their two young sons.

The Hickses’ immediate retirement plans include trips to Arizona and England and more visits to their grandsons in St. Louis.

“I hope to be Mamaw more often,” she said.

Tommy Hicks likes computers, so he said he might keep busy doing information technology work.

Candy Hicks isn’t sure what she will do with her time, but she has one part-time job offer: Carrico wants her to come back and work the desk at Sonny’s Cleaners, her home away from home for more than three decades.

She’s thinking about it.


Midway family has gone with the grain for 6 generations

March 4, 2013


130228Weisenberger-TE0038

Ralph Thompson, who has worked at Weisenberger Mill for 30 years, measures out ingredients for one of the company’s many “just add water” cooking mixes. The measured ingredients are combined in the giant mixer at left.  Photos by Tom Eblen

 

MIDWAY — It is hard to imagine which is rarer these days: an old-fashioned gristmill or a family business that has survived to the sixth generation.

Weisenberger Mills is both.

In a modern world of mass production, father and son Mac and Philip Weisenberger have found a comfortable niche doing what their family has been doing on the same spot since the Civil War.

“We grind about 1,000 bushels of grain a week,” Mac Weisenberger said. “These bigger mills, they do that much in an hour.”

Weisenberger Mills keeps humming along thanks to a diverse line of fresh, high-quality products and the desire of an increasing number of people to know where their food comes from.

August Weisenberger came to Midway from Baden, Germany. In 1865, he purchased a three-story stone mill on South Elkhorn Creek. By 1913, the old mill had become structurally unsound. It was demolished, and the stone was crushed to make a new concrete building. Weisenberger Mills still operates from that building.

The old mill’s water wheel was replaced in 1913 by a twin-turbine electric generator powered by water flowing down the creek. As more equipment was added over the years, the mill had to supplement that power with electricity from the local utility.

With help from a $56,000 U.S. Energy Department grant, the mill will install a more efficient generator this spring. The new generator should allow water from the creek to provide all of the mill’s power needs.

But you won’t find much other new technology here. Most of the grinding, mixing and sifting is done on circa-1913 machines operated by a system of belts and wheels. But how that equipment is used has evolved with changing market demands.

The Weisenbergers’ ancestors — two of whom were named August and two of whom were named Philip — sold nothing but flour and cornmeal until the 1940s. Then the family began diversifying into what are now more than 70 products, including many “just add water” mixes for everything from spoon bread and muffins to hush puppies and fish batter.

130228Weisenberger-TE0061Because people cook less at home these days, about 80 percent of Weisenberger’s sales are now to restaurants and other institutional kitchens. Still, every product carries a label stating which farm produced the grain it is made from, and where that farm is.

“That’s one of the advantages to being small,” Weisenberger said. “I can keep up with all of the grain.”

Weisenberger Mills buys all of its grain from within 100 miles of Midway, and much of it comes from farms that have been suppliers for decades.

The mill produces products based on orders, spreading grain purchases throughout the year. That helps the Weisenbergers and their four employees monitor grain quality and produce fresher products. Farmers get better prices, too, because they aren’t having to sell all of their grain at harvest time.

Weisenberger Mills no longer has its own trucks, so two distributors deliver its goods to Central Kentucky groceries. Customers also can buy products at the mill — located on Weisenberger Mill Road off Leestown Road, three miles southeast of Midway — or by placing mail orders at Weisenberger.com or 1-800-643-8678.

The mill gets about 60 mail orders each week — people in California with a hunger for grits, or New Englanders particular about their corn bread.

“But my stuff is heavy and cheap,” Weisenberger said, which means shipping can cost as much or more than the product.

How has this family business kept going for six generations when so many others fall apart after two or three? Mac, 60, said he realized after a couple of years of college how much he enjoyed working at the mill with his father, Philip, who died in April 2008.

Three of Mac’s four children had other dreams: they are an accountant, a neonatal nurse and an energy researcher. But the mill was a good fit for son Philip, 40.

“I started when I was 12 working in the summers,” Philip said. “Next thing you know, you’ve been here a long time.”

Philip doesn’t know if his son, Jakob, 8, will continue the tradition.

“He likes to come out here, and I can get a little work out of him,” he said. “I wasn’t pushed into this, so I’ll let him decide what he wants to do.”

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