"Setting up housekeeping" with bare necessities was the order of the day in the 1950s for folks in our social strata. As those Suzy Homemaker hormones kicked in, I found ways to improve on the situation. The MOTH (Man of the House) worked multiple jobs, provided food, shelter and clothing. I baby-sat (my own and others), took in laundry, and somehow managed to make payments on a real dining table and six chairs, delivered six months before the arrival of our third daughter. (It's still in use today, one of very few lasting furniture items in our household not purchased at Priest's.) A few years before that, I had coveted a bookcase I saw in the window of a little store in Fairmount (where we lived), and after paying 50 cents per week (missing a week occasionally) on the total price of $12.50, I satisfied that craving! That bookcase is still around as well.
We met Herbert Priest Sr. and his wife, Evelyn, and their son, Herb, not long after settling into the home we built in Woodstock. The rooms in our new house seemed big and sparsely furnished. Priest's sold merchandise on credit and allowed payment flexibility, to say the least. Over the years, the store became a fixture in town, a landmark, and a perfect example of small-town entrepreneurship. In keeping with small-town tradition, it was one of many family businesses, and two others have remained as anchors through the decades. Edwards Tire Sales and Morgan's Hardware began in Woodstock during the same time period, and each was passed on to the sons of original owners, just as Priest's.
All of Woodstock's merchants experienced growing pains during the ups and downs of the decades of phenomenal growth. After the death of Herbert Sr., his son's involvement in the business community continued. His calm voice of reason was often heard, and sometimes heeded, as his common-sense, level-headed, approach to problems kept the wheels of enterprise turning.
The present streetscapes project is reminiscent of the project of 1998 when the sidewalks were reworked and the park was opened. Herb was quoted then as being "tickled to death with the new park and the sidewalks. We are hoping the changes will make the old town district more pedestrian friendly." Sound familiar?
He talked then, also, of how his family moved from Canton to Woodstock during World War II. "When I was growing up here, I went to the movies where the barber shop is. Most people don't realize there was ever a movie theater in Woodstock." Perhaps those memories explain his love of the town and his best wishes for its prosperity.
His lifelong ties to the town are evident in his participation in preservation projects. He was one of five "storytellers" in a 2010 Main Street Session program, and his willingness to share his special memories and to help with documentation of events, buildings, and persons has made our research more interesting and much more enjoyable.
In Hal Stenger's August 13, 1970 "Around Woodstock" section of the North Georgia Tribune, this note gives just a hint of the growth of the business. "Herbert Priest started out to build a utility shed behind his store and now has a concrete block building that covers half of his back lot." 'Twas a harbinger of things to come. The business adapted to the growth. They filled the furniture needs of a new clientele, but never lost sight of the goal of having satisfied customers.
Herb's work with the Downtown Development Authority has helped to solidify the organization's place in the community. Authority Director Billy Peppers has this to say about Herb: "Herb Priest is the definition of a statesman. He is devoted to family, his business and his community. He fights for fairness, he speaks up for the silent and he does it all without the need or desire of praise. I am better for having known him."
That seems to cover all the bases.
Here's hoping he'll come back to town often. Surely he will miss us as much as we miss him.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock's official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.