Jake’s Pawn Shop to close after big sale

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The City of Bainbridge is losing another landmark business, as Jake’s Pawn Shop, historic retailer located on East Water Street, will close after 63 years. Jack and Roslyn Palmer demonstrate how they used the hat stamping machine acquired from the old Eckie Parker Menswear store formerly located on the square.

The City of Bainbridge is losing another landmark business, as Jake’s Pawn Shop, historic retailer located on East Water Street, will close after 63 years. The years of accumulated memorabilia, plus new merchandise, is all on the market.

Do you need an antique cherry pitter? How about a chemical agent detector kit from 1952, a sword from the Civil War, or an antique corn husker? Maybe you could find a use for a periscope or light designed for use in an Army tank. These are just minuscule samples of the antiques and Army surplus items available for sale at the Jake’s going-out-of-business sale that starts today.

In 1949 Romanian immigrant Jake Wolffe wrote a check for $100 to the City of Bainbridge for a business license to open a store called Jake’s Annex, located on the north side of East Water Street in what is now the parking lot next to the Nelson Building. He and his wife, Bella, first began selling chamber pots, then expanded to dishes, housewares and dry goods at that location.

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Two years later, the business moved across the street to the building now occupied by York Engineering and the name was changed to Jake’s Pawn Shop. War surplus items were big sellers in the late 40s and early 50s and as the items became more scarce, they began to display them on the back wall.

The store moved to its present location on the north side of the street in 1980, and has continued to be a vital part of the East Water Street scene and a positive contributor to the downtown merchant mix. Jake and Bella’s daughter, city councilwoman Roslyn Palmer, grew up in the store. As her father’s health declined, she and her husband Jack began helping out, eventually buying the business in 1984, about the time their own daughter, Mycla, was born.

Early in the 1990s, Jake’s began holding their annual February sale, which was an immediate blow-out event. The idea came as they noticed long lines of people on the sidewalks waiting to have their taxes figured at H&R Block next door. They often left with rapid refunds cash in their hands—and there was Jake’s having a big sale.

Although the word “pawn” was added to the name, the Palmers say it was never the biggest share of the business.

“It was always more of a retail operation,” Roslyn said.

In the early years, Jake’s was the place to buy a man’s hat. Men’s dress felt hats were stocked floor to ceiling, along one full wall in the back of the shop. Hats came in three colors (black, brown and gray), all sizes and three different width brims from which to choose. There was even a hat-stamping machine enabling buyers to stamp their initials on the inside brim.

Jake Wolffe was a member of the “Committee of 100” that worked to bring in new industry and also concerned himself with the issues of the Flint River. He was the first to be named Man of the Year, in recognition of his civic involvement and he and his wife were both active in the work of the Lions Club, serving in offices at the state level.

The Palmers, like the Wolffes before them, have always been active in civic affairs and promotions of Downtown Bainbridge.

In October, 2008 Jake’s was awarded the Most Innovative Business Anchor award at the Georgia Downtown Conference held in Douglasville after being nominated by the Bainbridge Main Street and Tourism Department. The award was presented to “an established downtown business that has demonstrated a creative/effective strategy to continue, expand or attract new patrons to downtown with its business model over the years.”

Recently the store has become known for being a mix of yesterday and today, offering a large inventory of boots, work and hunting clothes and gear, in addition to being a repository for a growing collection of antique tools, old Army surplus items and collectibles. As such, it became a place where people could bring their children and grandchildren to experience a taste of small-town southern Americana.

Roslyn has been busy researching the history of many of the items and has found some interesting facts. There is a Masonic rite sword with the name Joseph E. Brown inscribed on it. She knows that a Joseph E. Brown was governor of the state of Georgia during the Civil War, but she has not been able to determine if this sword actually belonged to him, or even if he was a Mason. She thinks it would be interesting to have a visit with the Antiques Roadshow television show to help authenticate some of the items.

Bainbridge city ordinances require the business to close 60 days from commencement of the going-out-of-business sale, with a possible extension of 30 days, but the Palmers hope to be closed by the end of March.

Asked what is ahead once the store is closed, Roslyn emphatically answered, “Lunch!” She then explained how they have been confined to grabbing a bite to eat in the store. She plans to spend the first week eating lunch at a different restaurant every day.

On a more serious note, she added that daughter Mycla will be married in May, and once the wedding is over, they will work on cleaning up the store and either rent or sell the building.

The Palmers are not sure what the future holds, but they are looking forward to exploring new opportunities. As Jack will continue to drive the school bus, there will be no sleeping-in for soon-to-be retirees.

One thing is sure. They will miss the many friends they have made through the business over the years.

“You can sell merchandise and memorabilia, but not memories. We’ve still got those,” added Roslyn.