Suratt And McCullar Partnership Worked Well
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, I hope you are having a good week. Last month, when I listed the businesses on Main Street prior to World War II, I decided to do a profile on one of the landmarks of that time.
The Leland company had been in business for over 50 years when the owner, Barron Leland, decided to retire. One of his employees at that time was Bluford McCullar, who moved to Water Valley as a teenager.
He married Helen Hunter, who was related to my mother. Helen died at a young age and he remarried Mildred Suratt. Mildred had a brother, Buck Suratt, who was interested in going into business. He and Bluford formed a partnership that lasted for the rest of their lives.
The store was located in the old Leland building, just below the Knox Drug Store. In fact, the Leland sign over the back door which opened onto Duncan Street has been there as long as I can remember. They operated a first-class dry goods store in the Leland tradition.
They carried upscale lines of ladies and men’s clothing. They also had a millinery department which was in the rear of the store and reached by stairs. This was operated by Mrs. Barnes who was a gracious lady and attracted a large clientele.
Many ladies refused to go to Coley Addington’s hat shop as she was as likely to insult you as not. Mother and Mrs. Barnes were good friends and our family did a lot of business with her over the years – in those days ladies always wore hats when they went out.
They had a first class men’s department and this was Bluford’s territory. I remember in those days that they handled Curlee suits, which were considered top-of-the-line. The company was located in St. Louis and conducted business primarily with small town stores.
Men considered they were well dressed when they wore a Curlee suit. Bluford was a good salesman and knew everyone by name – and usually what size they wore and what their preference was. I’ve seen him up close at work and as a lifetime salesman, I can tell you he was good. Buck Suratt was more low-keyed, but was a vital part of the operation. They both were very active in civic affairs and were part of the original group that founded the Watermelon Carnival.
Buck went into service during World War II and when he returned they opened a hardware store a few doors below the old Herald office. Buck’s wife came from the Miller family that opened a Western Auto Store at the corner of Wagner and Main and they had one son.
After Bluford retired, he wrote a column in the Herald for several years. In those days many store owners went to Memphis and stocked up on merchandise that today would be found in the discount stores – not McCullar & Suratt, they were first class all the way.
There were other business owners like Bluford and Buck who got their start in business working for an existing store and wound up eventually owning the business.
Several come to mind and I’ll include them in future columns. These days they say that small businesses are the backbone of America and Water Valley had its share of these rugged individuals that stuck it out and became successful. They were a credit to their community.
I’ve received some input that will be in future columns and I would appreciate hearing from more of you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O.. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.