A local paper once quoted Cecil Marks as saying, “There’ll always be an England, but there might not be a Buckhead.”
He was referring to plans for a skyscraper across Peachtree Road from the Buckhead Men’s Shop, which he opened in 1946. The planned building represented the future, while his clothing store represented the past.
The Buckhead Men’s Shop was in a sprawling space that came to a point on the corner of Peachtree and Buckhead Avenue. While it fronted Peachtree, everyone entered on Bolling Way, where a small parking lot led to a back door and stairs with a thick plastic runner leading down.
The store was a bit chaotic. Jackets and suits lined the walls, but they were also on the racks that filled every square foot of the floor in no discernible order. There were more windbreakers, overcoats, shirts, slacks, khakis, belts and ties than made sense. Items covered every counter and crowded every corner. Stuff blocked the front door.
That is why families formed a line to wait for Dorothy Mitchell to help with their back-to-school shopping. You could try to go it alone, but you needed someone to help you navigate the mayhem. That was Mitchell, who knew the store like the back of her hand.
Other salespeople would ask if you needed help, and your mother would smile and point to Dorothy.
They were used to it.
Mitchell was in the boys’ department and had been for as long as anyone could remember. Tall and elegant, she was bright and effusive. After expressing disbelieve at how much you had grown, she measured your size with her tape, which was always dangling from her shoulders.
She seemed to know everyone. She certainly knew us, even though we only came in a few times a year, for back-to-school, for a jacket and tie for Thanksgiving and Christmas and maybe a return trip for an Easter tie.
Mitchell had raised the Marks children. When they were old enough to leave the house, she took a job in the family’s clothing store. That was in 1963.
Her main area of expertise was the school uniforms, and the Buckhead Men’s Shop was the only place as far as I knew to get them. After about 10 minutes and a stack of clothes piled next to the cash register, she’d move on to the next waiting family.
The store harkened back to a time when the Buckhead Village — which we never called the village — was known for shopping, and not high-end shopping, but normal shopping.
A few doors down from the men’s shop was the Buckhead Hardware Store, where the second-generation owner Tom Murray — Mr. Murray — was always there to help. Across Peachtree on West Paces Ferry Road was the Big Star, a grocery store with florescent lights and faded linoleum floors.
As the Olympics approached, the area was evolving into an entertainment district. There were always bars and restaurants, places like Good Ol’ Days, East Village Grille and The Steamhouse Lounge, but the effort took on renewed urgency with the world coming to Atlanta.
In 1994, a Boston company purchased the old men’s shop, and opened John Harvard’s Brew House in its place.
The real problem by that time was parking. If one of those four or five spots wasn’t open in the small lot on Bolling, it was almost impossible to find a space.
That one constant in Buckhead — change — had already come, even if the Buckhead Men’s Shop didn’t yet know it. By the summer of ’96, those businesses that had defined the community for generations were long gone.
We all know how that turned out.
Marks was, of course, wrong; Buckhead is still here.
But he was also right.
The Buckhead to which he was referring is indeed gone — a Buckhead where families waited patiently for a specific salesperson, who made back-to-school shopping one of life’s simple pleasures.