Clothes from Mansour’s ‘stayed with you’
Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 5, 2016
LaGRANGE – The Mansour’s building is down, and there will soon be a new building standing in its place, but the influence of the store and the people who ran it lives on in the community.
Mansour’s was established in 1917 by Nasor Mansour I in downtown LaGrange. At the time, it was just one small store, but Mansour had high hopes for it.
“When he came to this country in the early 1900s, he settled in LaGrange because that is where he wanted to be,” said Nasor Mansour III. “… He started with the idea that his retail would be part of the community, and I think that’s what made it successful.”
That idea of community carried through the generations of Mansours that followed, and many people came to appreciate the individual members of the family who greeted people by name and asked about their lives.
“We have a lot of great memories of customers and employees and just being a part of the community,” said Nasor III. “… It was a central meeting place for all of LaGrange.”
Connecting people one sale at a time
Mansour’s little store expanded over time to form a department store that was a staple of the community for decades, and his children and grandchildren took over its operation.
“It started as one little bitty store in the middle of the block… then they bought another store and over time to almost the whole block,” said Rogene Hendrick.
For many people, Mansour’s was more than just a store, though. It was the place where new chapter of their lives began. That was the case for Hendrick, then known as Rogene Grier, who went to look for a bracelet to go with her prom dress at Mansour’s and ended up being helped by her future husband, Robert Hendrick.
“We weren’t even dating, and he came over to help me – he was dating one of my friends at the time – but we double dated at junior-senior prom,” said Hendrick.
The pair had known each other from going to church and school together, but that brief encounter sparked friendship. When Robert Hendrick broke up with his then-girlfriend, that connection inspired them to start dating and eventually get married.
“He came over from the shoe department and we started dating, and later got married and had two children,” said Hendrick.
The couple was married for almost 52 years – from 1961 until May 2013 when Robert died.
Part of the family
Hendrick was far from the only one affected by the store over the years. Mansour’s had a great impact on many of its employees, and in some cases, the lessons learned in the store still stick with people years after the store last shut its doors.
“I worked there 24 years,” said Inez Cobert. “… It was all Misses – sportswear, dresses – I worked all of it. … They were good people to work for.”
Cobert said that she enjoyed going to work and seeing the people there, and she always enjoyed her interactions with the Mansour family. In fact, when they got old enough to work both of her granddaughters worked at Mansour’s and learned how to gift wrap with Albert Mansour.
“(Mr. Albert) taught those girls – Scarlet and Zane – to gift wrap with two pieces of tape, and that’s all they use still today,” said Cobert.
Zane Winecoff also modeled clothes for the store in some of Mansour’s fashion shows, and the entire family wore clothes purchased at the store.
“Seeing it gone is sad because we don’t have anywhere to shop,” said Cobert. “… Before they opened the Columbus store, we had people coming from Montgomery – all over the place – to shop, and of course they still came.”
One of the greatest appeals of the clothes and shoes at Mansour’s according to Cobert was their durability and their ability to withstand the test of time.
“I still wear clothes that I got there,” said Cobert. “… The pantsuit that I wore on Sunday came from Mansour’s. When you bought clothes from there, they stayed with you. … You could wear them, and they didn’t wear out. I’ve still got shoes (from there) that I wear.”
Part time work, full time experience
Many people depended on those durable clothes to clothe their families over the years and went back to the store year after year to buy clothes and greet the Mansour family.
“I always loved going to Mansour’s because they had a good variety,” said Barbara Gray. “When my children were small – in the ‘60s – they used to have this big sale on Wednesdays, and I would go and buy all their clothes there… for $50 a month.”
Besides shopping there, Gray worked in the store part-time to for about a year and a half, and she enjoyed her time working for the retailer in the store’s family environment.
“(We tried to) not only treat every employee like a part of the family, but every customer and every vendor,” said Nasor III.
In Gray’s experience, the Mansour family was kind and caring to all their employees, and said she was sad to see the store go.
“I hated to see it close, but I guess that is progress for you,” said Gray.
The beginning of a new era
Almost a century after Mansour’s first opened its doors, the community now looks forward to the opening of a Courtyard by Marriott and the beginning of a new era for downtown LaGrange.
“I think what the city and the Callaway Foundation are doing with the property is great,” said Nasor III. “… I feel like with the hotel there and the design of the hotel, it will be good for LaGrange and the community moving forward.”
The hotel’s construction is currently on schedule, and city officials are hopeful that the hotel will be able to open on schedule between late 2017 and early 2018.