by Trish England
Let’s step into the Tucker Time Machine, and visualize our town. It may require a stretch of the imagination, but there was a time not so long ago when Tucker was just a collection of farms on dirt roads and a handful of streets lined with small sturdy homes all leading to the churches, schools and Main Street.
Let’s dial the Time Machine to the mid-1950’s. Shoppers could choose to travel to downtown Atlanta to visit Rich’s or Davison’s department stores, or drive to Belk’s or the new Suburban and Belvedere Plazas in Decatur. Tucker’s Main Street had a few essential retail businesses that served the entire population. There were two pharmacies, two grocery stores, a five-and-dime store, and Cofer’s Department store along with its building supply and lumber store. Also along the street were a feed and farm supply, a jeweler, a clothing shop or two, a barber and a beauty shop, Matthews Cafeteria and a Western Auto. All the store owners and clerks were friendly, trusted members of the community who knew all their customers by name.
One of these popular store keepers was Robby Robinson who managed Smith Shoes for nearly 25 years. Robby will turn 99 years old soon, so this trip into the Time Machine is dedicated to his life and service in Tucker.
Everyone knows him as Robby, but he was born Velton Leonard Robinson on August 18, 1913 to Marvin and Mary Anderson Robinson in Sonoraville in Gordon County, Georgia. He was the second-oldest of seven children. Times were hard for this growing family, and in 1923, they moved to Rome, Ga. where the Robby attended Anchor Rome Elementary School. Five years later, they moved to a corn and cotton farm at Fosters Bend on the Coosa River in Early, Ga. Between growing seasons, Robby’s parents subsidized farming with work in the nearby textile mills.
In 1936, at the age of 23, Robby married a local girl, Moselle Maxwell. The next year, they had a daughter named Delores. His life in business began in Rome at Mack’s Department Store, then to Global Ready-to-Wear in 1940, followed by a year with Gulf Life Insurance. In 1942 they moved to the US Army base, Fort McClellan, AL., where Robby worked as civilian clerk in the accounting office of the Air Engineer department. His work involved civil and military projects such as the port at Mobile, Alabama, and the construction of the Martha Berry Highway in Rome.
By 1944, the young Robinson family returned to Rome where he went back to work for Mack’s Department Store, taking on the entire field of retailing, from sales to purchasing and accounting. Unfortunately, his marriage to Moselle ended in divorce.
On a “surprise date” in 1951, some friends introduced Robby to the lovely Faye Dean who was the dietician at Martha Berry College in Rome. They soon married and he began a career with the Dan Cohn Co. department stores as a manager for the shoe departments in Tuscaloosa, AL., Knoxville, TN, and Birmingham. Their son, Michael Velton, was born in 1953 while the couple lived in Tuscaloosa.
Finally, the life of moving around became wearisome and Robby yearned to settle down. When he started work for Smith Shoes on the Square in Decatur in 1955, he felt that he finally come down to earth. Faye became the dietician at Agnes Scott College and they rented a small house nearby.
In March of 1956, W. C. Smith opened a new shop built by Jack Gatlin on the east side of Main Street in Tucker, next-door to Edna Britt’s beauty shop. It was small but it was a great beginning. The store stocked all the brands of shoes for men, women and children that could be found in the big department and specialty stores in downtown Atlanta, competitively priced with the all-important friendly customer service.
Then in 1962, Smith’s Shoes moved into Norman Newsome’s Drugstore as Doc was moving the pharmacy a half block up the street, to the present location of Carr’s. The new shoe store was much larger with two glass-front show windows and a colorfully tiled entryway. The shop with the large lighted “Smith Shoes” sign became a destination for local shoppers for over 20 years.
Robby and Faye built their house on Sims Court later that year. This was a new subdivision off Old Norcross Road with stylish, modern brick ranch homes on large wooded lots and room for kids. The big yellow school buses served Tucker Elementary and Tucker High Schools, and the family settled in and son Mike quickly made friends.
Smith Shoes was where Tucker went for shoes and hosiery for the entire family, as well as specially-ordered corrective shoes for children and adults, and dance shoes and apparel for local dance schools such as Delores Werner’s in Tucker. Robby supplied the boots for drill teams and cheerleaders at Tucker and Brookwood High Schools. Brides-to-be shopped at Smith’s for hand-tinted matching shoes and handbags for the entire bridal party, and men bought a year’s supply of socks at a time. Boys wanted cowboy boots to go with their Daniel Boone buckskins and raccoon hats; girls wanted ballerina slippers, Mary Janes and saddle oxfords. Robby would call his customers when a shipment of special shoes or ladies’ hose arrived. He made it a point to know the shoe size and preferences of each of his customers, all the way down to the shade of hosiery that each woman wore.
A visit to Smith’s was special for children because the shop featured a larger-than-life-sized red goose, the well-known mascot of the Red Goose line of kids’ shoes. When the lever was pulled, out came a large golden plastic egg, filled with candy and trinkets. The egg had a built-in slot that turned it into a fun money-saving coin bank. But the most unique feature of the shop was a machine that examined and analyzed the shape and size of a customer’s foot. One would slide his or her feet into the cast-iron “shoes” on a platform, flip the switch, watch the blue light and look down to see the result in the form of a real X-Ray. Over time, however, scientists determined that too much exposure to X-rays was potentially dangerous, so the machine was donated to Emory University.
Like Fountain’s Drugstore and other businesses on Main Street, Robby employed Tucker High School students to work as sales associates in the afternoons and weekends. Some of these included Carolyn Tuggle, Linda Lee Richardson, Jan Pagett and Jerry Britt. The experience of learning to work in retail and interact with customers developed a good work ethic in these young people, and they have great memories of working with Robby.
Robby worked six days a week, practically every week. The Smith family owned a beachfront home near Daytona, FL., and the Robinson family made time for a short beach vacation once a year. Outside the shop, Robby was active in Tucker civic life. He served as Treasurer of Tucker Business Association from the organization’s outset in the mid-‘50’s. He was also a member of the Tucker Lions Club, serving as Chaplain and selling mops and brooms for fundraising drives. Faithful and active Christians, the Robinson family attended the Calvary Assembly of God in Dunwoody.
Finally, Robby retired from Smith Shoes in 1980. By that time, neighborhood malls had all but strangled the small Main Street businesses. Shoes were being made overseas, and Robby was dissatisfied with the quality of the products. A new manager came into the store for a couple of years, but could not overcome the competition and closed forever in 1982. The building was subdivided and E&B Jewelry is now located in the left-hand side.
Following his retirement, Robby built a new house on Stone Drive on the east side of Lilburn. He and Faye and Mike finally had a chance to travel and enjoy their church and friends, moving their membership to the Centerville Assembly of God. They went to Jerusalem in 1984. Over time, however, Faye’s health problems slowed them down. She passed away on May 17, 1990 of a lengthy heart-related illness.
Mike continued to live at home and worked at National Vision, a manufacturer of corrective eyewear in Lawrenceville. He and Robby took an extended trip to Belgium and France in 1993. At home, the two were inseparable. Sadly, Mike’s health began
to deteriorate and he passed away of a sudden cardiac arrest on January 24, 2004, at the age of 51. Robby was devastated and continues to grieve to this day.
Today, Robby remains active, living up to his nickname, Energizer Bunny. He lives alone and is self-sufficient. His daughter Delores (Dee) Turner is a retired second-grade teacher from Brockett Elementary, lives just down the road and checks in constantly. He has 3 grandchildren, 6 great-grand children, and 3 great-great grandchildren. For his 97th birthday, he gave himself a new Honda CRV. A trim, compact man with silver hair and a handsome wardrobe, he’s a familiar sight at his various breakfast clubs and civic events. He takes a yearly vacation to Myrtle Beach and wouldn’t miss a Tucker Day celebration for the world. His memory for names and dates is astonishing, and he recognizes Smith Shoes customers…and the children and grandchildren of customers… everywhere he goes. He loves to talk Tucker history.
When asked what he plans to do for his 99th birthday, he smiles and says, “The usual”. That means he’ll drop in on the guys at Burger King or Krystal on Hwy. 78 for breakfast, and later let Dee and her family make a fuss over him. What’s the secret of his longevity and abundant health? Here’s a hint: his mother lived to be 106.
Robby Robinson is one of Tucker’s amazing treasures, because Tucker still claims him as her own.
Happy Birthday, Robby. You are loved.
P.S. Robby will celebrate his 100th birthday this year , 2013!