A Century of Service by K. Blake Tyner

Who would have thought that when Joe Sugar was driving his wagon to Raleigh in 1916 and stopped to check out a store in St. Pauls, NC that 100 years later his grandson and namesake would still be operating the family business. The journey took many twist and turns from his immigration to store owner. Joe Sugar was born January 10, 1889 in Ariogala, Lithuania. His birth name was Tsukera, the Russian word for Sugar. He arrived at the Locust Point dock in Baltimore on May 15, 1906 aboard the ship The Main. His son, Stanly, said of his father “he couldn’t read or write English, but someone forgot to tell him he was poverty stricken and he went to work making two dollars a week.”

Baltimore was home to a large Jewish Immigrant community and like many young Jewish males Joe started selling goods on consignment for the Baltimore Bargain House. He peddled clothing through the Carolinas on foot with a pack on his back until he raised enough money to purchase a horse and buggy. He slept many nights with the stars for his lights and the sky for a roof.

In October 1911 Joe and three of his brothers opened Joe Sugar & Co. in Bennettsville, SC. Joe made a trip to Baltimore to secure goods and visit his family. He met Anne Leviton and began courting her. They were married three weeks later and she returned to Bennettsville with him. Their first child Emanuel was born July 1914. By 1916 he realized that the business was not big enough to support four Sugar brothers. Joe and his small family were headed to Raleigh when he stopped in St. Pauls and heard that the Townsend Brothers had a store for sale that was making $50 a Saturday. They had found a new business and a new home. Daughter Beatrice was born in 1917 with Stanly following in 1924 and Leon in 1928.

Left to right: Joe, Stanly, Anne, Emanuel, Beatrice and Leon

Each of the Sugar children began working in the store. Sugar eventually opened a store in Lumberton that was later purchased by his son, Emanuel. His daughter, Beatrice, and her husband, Ernest Fleishman, operated a lady’s store in Lumberton and son, Leon, operated a store in Lumberton before opening his store in Fayetteville. Stanly returned from World War II and helped manage the St. Pauls store.

Stanley Sugar grew up working with his father and mother from the time he was ten in their general merchandise store. Stanley convinced his parents to change the store to focus just on clothing for the entire family. He said many times it was the best move. In 1960 Stanley made another a bold move and began to stock the men’s section with clothing for Big and Tall men as well as the short man.

It all started when a customer walked in with his hard-to-fit 12-year-old who was already 6’4”. Stanley knew he had found the store’s future. Under one roof he brought together 177 sizes of sport coats and suits from a 35 extra short to a 70 long portly. Pants from a 28 waist to a 76, which two average size people could easily fit.

He told a reporter in 1987 “I’m over inventoried. I’m always over inventoried. What built my business is having the merchandise. Most stores are scared to death to buy the way I buy.”

Stanly in his trademark red hat with Joe, who is standing in one leg of a size 70 dress pants.

He use to not be able to sleep at night at the thought of ordering 500 Ultrasuede coasts in 15 sherbet shades or buying $150,000 worth of clothes in three hours. Stanley said “But it’s always worked out.”

Stanley closed the children’s department after his youngest daughter grew out of those sizes into young women’s sizes. Then in January 1974 a newspaper advertisement announced the Sugar’s would be closing the ladies clothing department.

In 1985 Stanley was named Retailer of the Year by the Men’s Apparel Club at the 45th Annual Anniversary Ball. At that time the store was 6,500 square feet with a work force of 18. Stock included 8,000 shirts, 7,000 slacks, 2,500 sport coats and 3,500 suits.

Stanley said in a 1986 interview that he always had the moral support of his wife, Annette, whom he met in Seattle while in the Navy. “Soon as I married her, I brought her down to North Carolina to dry her off and see what she looked like. She’d been in the fog all her life. When she first came, she hated the climate, but now you couldn’t run her out with a shotgun.” The Sugar’s three daughters – Fran, Jackie and JoAnn, known to everyone as The Sugar Lumps, grew up working in the store with their grandparents and father.

The present-day Joe Sugar, son of Leon and Mickey Fleishman Sugar, grew up in Fayetteville. His mother debated long and hard to find a name for her son. Mickey’s father had recently died and she wanted to honor her father by naming him Leon but did not want him as a Jr. So, she thought using the L and calling him Larry but her Aunt Dot said “Larry Sugar is not a good name that honors no one. She said your father-in-law just passed away too. Call the boy Joe and give him Lawrence as a middle name.” Aunt Dot also told her niece that who knows he might end up down there at that store one day.

Did Aunt Dot signal the future for infant Joe? Or maybe it was when he started working with his father at his clothing store? Maybe it was destiny he does decent from three Jewish clothing merchant families – the Sugars of St. Pauls and Fayetteville; the Fleishmans of Fayetteville and his grandmother Fleishman was a Weinstein, niece of Lumberton merchant Aaron Weinstein. Young Joe did not think he would find himself in the clothing business.

After graduating from NC State, he entered the financial world. He was working as a stock broker when he called his Uncle Stanley in August 1986. He had a stock he wanted to sell Stanley. He recalls “Stanley told me ‘Listen, I’ve got some stock to sell you’ ” Stanley was looking for someone to take over the then seventy-year-old family business. One selling point Stanley told him was that Joe had the right name and would not have to spend money on a new sign. Joe drove down to the store to look around. After meeting the personnel, he liked what he saw. He talked to his family and decided that Joe Sugar’s of St. Pauls is where he belong.

Joe Sugar descendants gathered for centennial event. Photo courtesy Ponce Photography

Joe like his predecessors has made his own mark on the business. He issued a catalog for the business for several years. He has taken the business to the internet establishing a website and promoting the business using social media. His biggest mark came when Hurricane Floyd ripped the roof of the building in 1999. He enlarged the business into the next two buildings and redesigned the exterior of the buildings. He continues to provide quality clothing and service as his family has for over a century.


2 thoughts on “A Century of Service by K. Blake Tyner”

  1. Great article and moving tribute to the Sugar clan. Stanley’s middle daughter, Jackie, is my sister-in-law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *