Butler County Times Gazette
  • Through the Front Door: Still savoring State Street

  • Let's visit about State Street, our community's Main Street America!
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  • Good morning! I hope everyone is well and enjoying this Saturday morning! Let's visit about State Street, our community's Main Street America!
    Since moving back to Kansas four years ago and, more recently, back to Augusta, I've been awash in memories almost to the point of distraction. My return to my hometown brings many feelings. Some of these feelings evoke a warm feeling of comfort while, sadly, some make me wipe a tear away. I think of all the wonderful people who impacted my life and are no longer with us—especially my parents. My Dad was a member of State Street at times and was a person admired by so many, a solid, quiet man, full of honesty and honor. My Mom was a force to reckon with who defended her family with the strength of a mama bear. After the loss of my sister Kay she became a Mother to so many. She was strengthened by her loss, and she aided so many with her wisdom and love. Why am I talking about all these personal things when I'm supposed to be writing about design? Because life is a design. Life is a delicious, wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth experience that brings its ups and downs. Let me demonstrate with a walk on State Street.
    Lovely Learning Experience
    Let's go back to the year 1968, and let's make it a Saturday. Walk with me for a bit and let me tell you why I am in the design world and who along the way brought me here. When I was in high school, I used to pop out of bed on Saturday mornings and get ready for one of the happiest places on the planet for me: Lovellette's Gifts. I loved walking through that door to start my day working with Lucille. The wooden floor would creak and vibrate the glorious crystal just a bit, creating an almost fairylike tinkle. I'm sure many of you remember the simply amazing fragrance of her store—it's embedded into my brain for life. I loved being there, I loved my dear mentor Lucille Chase and I loved all the wonderful things she taught me. This experience firmly placed me on the road to becoming a designer. Lucille taught me so many things—so many tips that I use every day—more than 45 years ago. I love sharing her information with others.
    On one particular Saturday, we received a shipment of barware. Lucille showed me how to open the boxes and examine each piece for damage. She was full of information, but mostly self-taught. Cradle the top and bottom of the glass in the palms of your hands and rotate it, feeling for chips. Then gently ping the glass to hear the clarity of it. If the ping is flat there is some damage; if it rings loud and clear, it is perfect. To this day I perform this check for defects on glassware. Lucille explained the different stemware and glasses to me along with each one's purpose. I learned the difference between a red and white wine glass, how to spot a martini or highball glass, and the utensils necessary for a well-equipped bar.
    Page 2 of 3 - Lucille taught me how to set a proper table, including the placement of all the plates, flatware, glasses and stemware. From her, I learned what stemware needed to be on the table along with how to select the perfect shaped crystal for any china dinner plate. She showed me how to appreciate so many things that I still love to this day.
    In my shopgirl days, I found out that centerpieces should not to be so high that your dinner guests have to peek through them to contribute to the conversation. Candles need to be low or over the guests' heads so the flame doesn't make them sleepy. "No fragrant candles on the dining room table, please," she would warn me. On Saturday mornings, we changed displays and set tables for bridal registries—and it was a dream come true for a person like me who loves every aspect of all those beautiful things.
    Inspiration Everywhere
    After a busy morning we would have lunch. On most Saturdays, Lucille sent me to Cooper's lunch counter. As I crossed State Street and made my way to Cooper's, I'd always wave at Burl Allison, who would stop cutting hair for a few seconds to smile and wave back at me. When I got to Cooper's, Ann Clark (now Jackson) would fix Lucille a fried egg and black olive sandwich (strange, I know, but Lucille loved it). Sometimes, on the way back, I'd cross the street and wave at Cecil Turner and Mary Bowers at Cecil's Jewelry. If I had time, I might pop into Hudson's Dry Goods, say hello to a few of the ladies and ask if they had any new Barbie clothes for my sister Kay. Erlene Punk knitted the most marvelous little jackets for Barbie and sold them through Hudson's. And then, while Lucille's sandwich was still hot, I'd head back to the store.
    On some Saturdays, Lucille would send me across the street to Calvert's to look for a new dress or two for her. I quickly learned her likes and dislikes. Helena Brandt would help me find three or four dresses that, of course, were sent out "on approval." No money exchanged—just a smile and a wink from Helena. Lots of times she would tell me, "You better sell those!" I felt like such a fashion know-it-all as I began to understand what people wanted. All these experiences, from table setting to clothing shopping, aided me in my love of design. Being a part of State Street at age 16 is the true foundation for not only my love of exquisite things, but my desire to help others achieve the dream for their homes.
    I loved State Street back then and I still love State Street today. So many memories reside on this street for me, and no doubt for many of you as well. Do some of you remember the challenge of parking on State Street at Christmastime? Walking into Calvert's to find the balcony filled with red and green packages! And the queen herself, Mrs. Jackson, reigning above all of us up on her throne.
    Page 3 of 3 - Another queen reigned on State Street as well: Mrs. Fowler. She was a master at what she did, which was buying for Calvert's. By the time I worked at Calvert's one summer and fall with Helena as my guide, the Fowlers no longer owned it. But every detail about how to hang a dress with a belt was still such a part of the daily duties in the dress department. Mrs. Fowler had a sneaky trick of wrapping the belt twice through the loops around the waist of the dress. It didn't matter what size you pulled from the rack—it showed a tight and attractive waist. Oh, the merchants in Augusta were masterful. They knew how to engage and sell us from what they had to offer. Today, with the exception of Cooper's, new places have taken the place of once was. And the buildings remain as landmarks, reminding us of our community's history and making our town very special.
    I am tremendously excited about the city's reclamation and preservation plans for the train station. I will let you all in on a secret: When my husband Bob and I returned to Augusta after attending the University of Kansas, I had a dream of opening a ladies shop in the train station. I even had a name: The Country's Lady's Train Stop! I can't wait to see what wonderful designs will take place in that beautiful building! So, to sum all of this up, I was drawn to design by so many people who had talent—and were generous enough to share their talent with me.
    May I make a suggestion: take a nice stroll down State Street and really look at all of those buildings. Perhaps sit on a bench and just study them. I think you will agree we are pretty luck! I hope all of you have a wonderful week.
    Next week I am off on my own new adventure in the world of design. I will be attending High Point, the most spectacular market for home furnishings. I'm so excited and of course I will share what I discover!
    Send your designing questions to: jan@jcolvininteriors.com

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