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History of Peoples on the Square

The founder of People's Department Store, Mr. J.C. Jacobs, was born in 1918 on Jacobs’ Branch in the Iotla Community of Macon County, North Carolina. The oldest of seven children, he grew up helping his mother raise his brothers and sisters and working on the family farm. As a young man in high school he had the opportunity to work on Main Street in Franklin for Mr. Jack Sanders, at Sanders Clothing store. Mr. Sanders was a Jew who had escaped to America from Russia and his store carried clothing and shoes for the family. J.C. remembers selling two kinds of Work boots at Sanders Clothing. One cost $1.48 and the other cost $1.98.

When he graduated from Franklin High School in 1933, J.C. went to work in Highlands, NC at a soda shop to earn money to go to college. His dream was to be a dentist.

A banker visiting Highlands from Florida observed his work ethic at the soda shop and offered him a job at a bank in Florida making $25.00 per week. J.C. moved to Miami and worked in the Florida National Bank and Trust until World War II began. He was drafted into the Army/Air Force and served in North Africa and Europe during the war. At the end of the war he felt he was too old to go to college. He decided to return home to Macon County and began working for The Bank of Franklin.

While working at the bank, J.C. decided he wanted to go into business. He began by owning a car dealership with Mr. Clint Burrell, a grocery business and 5 & 10 cent store with Mr. Bill Bryant, and finally, in 1946, opened a small dress shop behind where the town Gazebo stands today in the same building that houses People's. He named the dress shop THE TWINS’ SHOP for his twin sisters, Kate and Lois, who ran it for him. At that time Mrs. Frances Higdon owned a dress shop on Main Street called The Frances Shop. Mrs. Higdon wanted to retire and persuaded J.C. to buy her shop. He moved The Twins’ Shop around the corner and located it on Main Street where it is today.

Later, in May, 1957 he opened PEOPLE'S DEPARTMENT STORE on the North side of Main Street in the old Joe Asher building. At the time he opened People’s there were four other clothing stores on Main Street. Belk, Bowers, Cato and the old Pendergrass store (in the current Macon County Historical Museum) were his competition.

People's Department Store, also known as People's On The Square, is located in the Joe Asher Building built in 1934. Claude Russell was the master bricklayer on the building and he worked for 35 cents an hour. The foundation is flint rock and concrete. Joe Asher built the building to house his own clothing store called Asher's. Mr. Asher had come to Macon County from Lebanon and began his business by going house to house with a pack on his back to carry his wares. His first store was in a small wooden building on the site where People's now sits. Mr. Asher sold his clothing store to Belk Department Store which first occupied the Ladies and Basement area of People's. Belk later relocated down the street to the building where Macon Furniture Mart is today. In the early 1950's when Belk wanted to expand the basement area to take in the area underneath today's shoe department, it took Wiley Clark two weeks to knock a hole in the well-built foundation to create an opening.

J.C. began People's with the area that is now the Ladies Department and Basement. He sold lawn mowers, buckets, overalls, dry goods (material, sewing supplies, curtains, bedding), dresses, clothing and shoes for the family. The old chestnut floors creaked under stacks of clothing higher than your head. His desire was never to turn a customer away.

Opening day on May 1, 1957, J.C. offered new brooms to the first 100 women coming into the store. The line of women waiting to get into the new store stretched down the block. Those brooms cost him 25 cents each.

Since 1946 and 1957 The Twins’ Shop and People’s Department Store have been committed to serving the people of Macon County and surrounding areas with quality goods at a reasonable price. J.C. worked on the floor each day and returned to work in the evening to price and put out merchandise and do his bookwork. When Mr. Lester Henderson's 5&10 Cent Store went out of business, J.C. expanded the family clothing store, developing an entire shoe store and men's clothing area. In the early 1970's he opened the Sav-a-dollar in a different building and later moved it to Main Street when Perry's Drug Store closed.

He attracted clerks who were loyal, hard working and equally committed to service. It is a testimony to his leadership that many of the people who began working with him in the 1950’s continued working at People’s or The Twins’ Shop until they retired.

J.C. never has retired. At 87, he still maintains an active interest in the businesses today. He insists that both People’s and Twins’ continue to offer quality service and merchandise at a reasonable price. The operational management of the business today rests with daughters Janet Jacobs Greene and Nancy Jacobs Paris. They seek to uphold the standards their dad set for the businesses.

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