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Brier Patch owner closes store after 40 years in retail

As last-minute shoppers discovered bargains and loyal friends shared memories, the shelves of Brier Patch Gifts and Tanning grew sparse.

"An era has passed," Diane Hobbs said as she wrote her final check to Brier Patch, and as Johnette Bell ended more than 40 years of retail service in Thomson.

Mrs. Hobbs said she has visited Mrs. Bell at one location or another for more than 30 years.

"My first job was I sold my dolls on the corner at J.D. Matthews' service station," Mrs. Bell said. CVS pharmacy now occupies that location. "That was 40 years ago."

She lamented the decline of downtowns everywhere.

"I would like to see Thomson downtown booming," she said, "like it was in the '60s and '70s, when Brannan's Drugs was here and Milton's Drugs. Thomson used to be a very thriving little city. But everyone's gone out to the shopping center."

Her husband, Billy, had another take on the change.

"Small towns years ago used to stew in their own gravy, and everybody made a good living," he said.

But some of the retail group spirit remains, Mrs. Bell said. For instance, the owner of Stacy Turner Furniture Co. has "been an excellent friend and neighbor," she said.

Mrs. Bell sold her seasonal gifts and decorations from her home and at two locations over the past four decades.

"A lot of folks just came in to tell me their problems, and to tan," she said.

All 10 tanning beds have been sold. The shelves have been sold. Most of the inventory is gone, though Mrs. Bell said she might sell gifts from her home again.

Mrs. Bell said she decided to give up her store because she has reached full Social Security retirement age.

"I've had some health issues," she said, "and my kids say they want me to keep me around for a while."

Soon the Main Street storefront will house an alarm systems store.

Mrs. Bell said the inventory liquidation has gone well.

"She sold my bed," Mr. Bell said.

"He's telling a lie; don't put that in the paper," Mrs. Bell said. "People will believe it."

Then she returned to her original point, as her husband's mischievous smile lingered over the conversation.

She said she looks forward to "some me time," including helping her son, Benjamin Bell, with the Lights of the South attraction in Grovetown.

"It's not going to be the same," said Carolyn Gilbert, the director of the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce. "She's been a fixture here for many, many years, and she and Billy are going to be missed."

"No one ties a bow like she does," Mrs. Gilbert said.

"Miss Johnette, we're gonna miss y'all," shopper Cheryl Williams said as she left with her Christmas decorations.

"Oh, you'll see me around," Mrs. Bell said.

Web posted on Thursday, December 30, 2010

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