Mr. Rufus Ashworth of Ashworth’s Clothing was born in 1895 and started his family business in 1937. It’s been in the same location all these years, though they have expanded the size of the store three times. Rufus passed the store down to his son Jimmy, and now Jimmy’s son, Steve, owns and operates the business. Jimmy and his older brother, W.D. (Skinny), age 92, still come in and check on things every day. Just as they’ve had to expand, they’ve changed their presentation over the years. Ashworth’s used to be a complete shoe store and ladies wear store. Now they only do select women’s accessories. At Ashworth’s, it’s all about the modern man. They do a complete line of shoes, sportswear, and suits, including lots of custom suits and shirts. You can spend anywhere from $300 to $1,200 for a suit. Jimmy says Ashworth’s is “for the man who cares.” There was a time when they catered more to the general population, but now they are more of a specialty-clothing store. Jimmy explains that they used to be more of a mini-department store, but they reached a point where they had to make a decision as to what their niche was going to be. And because customer loyalty doesn’t typically come with lower-end merchandise, they focused on higher-end items. And they have been extremely successful with that endeavor. Ashworth’s services a wide area, drawing customers in from Raleigh, Cary, Sanford, and Fayetteville. But make no mistake: they are very pro-downtown Fuquay-Varina. Jimmy says, “We still have a viable downtown. It looks as good today as it’s ever looked.” They’ve been asked many times to expand, but essential to their business is management being on location. “People like to come in and see the same personnel and feel comfortable.” Jimmy attributes their longevity to the simple fact that the owners have always been there. “We’ve staked out our livelihood here, and this is where we are.”
Mr. Kemp B. Johnson started his company, originally named K.B. Johnson & Sons, in 1921. Back then, the company primarily provided gasoline to rural farmers. Now, they service the farming community as well as residential and commercial properties spanning five counties. Andy Johnson, who does customer service and marketing, represents the fifth generation at K.B. Johnson Oil & Gas. After college Andy worked at a marketing and PR company for a year and a half, then chose to take his passion and business acumen back home to the family business. Andy’s grandfather, Kemp C., is still the president of the company, and is credited for introducing propane into the mix. The company consists of 15-16 employees, all of whom grew up in the area. “It’s neat to work at a place that is still so locally tied,” Andy says. “It’s one of those things where everyone knows everyone. We love that.” Andy says they enjoy nothing more than when someone walks into the office who he had as a 2nd grade teacher, or who his father went to school with. And in a town like Fuquay-Varina, that happens quite often. K.B. Johnson Oil & Gas prides themselves on the fact that they don’t have a 1-800 number. They’re still in the same location; their desire is to be a company that’s reachable and accessible. As for the future, Andy tells me it’s open-ended. In 2021 they will celebrate 100 years of business. But Andy says that no matter how many customers they take on, they vow to keep it personal. They never want their customers to be a customer ID number; they want to know names and they want to know faces. Andy says, “We get to work ethically every day.” And while they strive to uphold certain traditions, they are always looking for ways to adapt to new customers and new technologies. “We’re always going to seminars, and always have our ears and eyes open.”
Mr. Elmo Clifton Fish opened Elmo’s in 1911. His grandson, Barney Fish, now owns the establishment. It was customary at that time for businesses to be named after the owner’s last name, but Barney’s grandfather always joked that if he named his store “Fish’s,” people would think he had a fish market. And so Elmo’s was born. Back in 1911, it was more-or-less a general merchandise store, carrying everything from clothing, to hardware, to various household goods. When Elmo passed away in 1963, Barney’s father ran the business until about 1990, at which time Barney stepped up. In 1995, Barney’s father sold him the business, and his mother sold him the building. They’ve been big, but have had to cut back. Barney says Elmo’s caters to high style, conservative folks. They used to sell Levi jeans, work clothes and work boots in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, but with any kind of independent business you have to find your place. “You can’t just do anything the way you’ve been doing it,” Barney says. “You have to be open, to not be afraid to try something new.” Barney’s suits go from 36 Regular to 60 Long, and even a few 62s (special order). Barney says the man who walks into his store is looking for something different. Conservative with some flair. “They like color,” he says. “They like white but they don’t mind buying a pink shirt or purple shirt or a bright green one.” When asked about the future, Barney says that when he carried the business to the 100th year, he didn’t make any promises that he would go another hundred. And unfortunately, he doesn’t have anyone to carry it on. He has two boys but they’ve never been interested. That’s OK with him. A lot of businesses have just gone out of business. Elmo’s hasn’t.
Dr. A.N. Johnson opened Johnson Optometric on July 7, 1950. One week later, his son, Robert, was born. Robert followed in his dad’s footsteps and became Dr. Robert (or Dr. Bob as he is known), joining the practice in 1976. And since that time they’ve added four associates, two of whom are partners. Bob’s father retired in 1987. “My dad had a great group of patients, and was very well respected,” Bob says. Johnson Optometric is the oldest optometric practice in North Carolina. And because Bob’s father and mother were both strong Christians, his approach is “to honor and glorify the Lord in everything.” They have patients hailing from all over the country, and have been seeing families up to five generations deep. Active in the community, Bob has served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Rotary Club, as well as a board member of several different non-profits. Bob encourages his associates to plug into the community. When asked what his philosophy is, Bob shares one of his favorite quotes: “Obey God, and leave the consequences to Him.” In other words, it’s never wrong to do what’s right. With regards to the future, Bob has great aspirations for Johnson Optometric Associates. He’s brought on two young men who will perpetuate what his dad started 65 years ago and what he’s been able to do for nearly 39 years. “They are bright young men, they were tops in their class and have been awarded quite a bit in their optometry schooling. Good family men,” he says. And most important to Bob, they have the same philosophy of practice. They consider it an honor and privilege to serve the people.