Monday marked 60 years in business for John and Maxine Cook. The owners of Cook’s Mens Store, on the east side of the Memphis square commemorated the big day the same way they have most every Monday for the past six decades, by going to work.
“Yes we are still at it six days a week,” said John of he and Maxine’s work schedule. “But it has been good to us, all the same.”
Even at age 85, John says he has no plans for retirement.
“I have people all the time ask me when I’m going to retire,” said John. “I had an old timer tell me a couple things that have always stuck with, so I stick to them as my answers. He told me he didn’t know where he was going, but he didn’t want to be late. And he told me he planned to retire three days before his visitation. Can’t say as I see anything wrong with that.”
Cook, who started out his professional life as a car salesman, caught a break early in life that led to his long run as a store owner.
“My folks mentioned to me that the Downing General Store was for sale, so we came down and took a look at it and decided there were a lot of possibilities,” said John.
Soon after he and Maxine decided to make the purchase from W.O. Slavin, who himself was retiring at age 83.
“We had groceries on one side and dry goods on the other complete with a playpen and a bunk in the back for our two young children,” said John.
But it didn’t take long for the Cooks to see an opportunity to transition into the store’s current format, western style clothing.
“There were rodeos and roping competitions all the time,” said Maxine. It seemed like every Sunday there was a horse show somewhere.”
With more and more customers coming their way looking for boots, hats, belt buckles and other western attire, the couple decided to capitalize on the growing market.
Soon after, John and Maxine made another transition, moving to Memphis.
“We started further south on the east side of the square but soon decided we need to expand,” said John. “Turns out early on I was buying more than I was selling.”
That led to the move to the current location, where John and Maxine turned their plans into the store you see today, thanks to several local contractors.
“Jack Dannenhauer gets much of the credit for what you see today,” say John referencing the store’s interior design. “Like a lot of things in life, when you have some ideas, if you share them with the right people, they can take them and make a really big deal out of them.”
The late Dannenhauer spent at least six months constructing the store’s wooden fixtures, the dressing rooms and much more. Monroe Construction turned the dirt floored basement into the current showroom that feature’s the store’s large selection of blue jeans.
“They were there when we started and they are there still today,” John said of the store’s layout. “I believe in keeping it simple, meaning there is no reason to change a lot just for the sake of changing. If the customers know where to find stuff, that surely is good for business.”
While the store hasn’t been afraid to add new merchandise in its 60 years, John and Maxine have stuck with what works, even though they admit the times have changed people’s attire over the years.
“Used to be suits were everyday attire for businessmen,” said Maxine. “Now it seems like they are only brought out for weddings, funerals or maybe job interviews. But even though you don’t see them worn as much, we still sell a fair share of them as folks still need them for those occasions.
Maxine said the same thing goes for bibs, or work overalls.
“We carry four different brands and we sell a lot of them, which is funny because I hardly ever run into anyone wearing them.”
The inventory variety is just one of the reasons folks have flocked to Cook’s Mens Store over the past 60 years. John says he believes customer service has helped make his store a mainstay for shoppers from across the tri-state region.
“We have always made it a point to try to greet all of our customers and show genuine interest in taking care of them,” he said. “We’ll have a conversation with them, just the same as you would a friend, and people remember that. Pretty soon they are coming back as customers because they are your friends.”
Maxine notes that the store’s alteration services also have helped attract and retain customers.
“People know that they can come in here and find what they want and leave knowing that it is going to fit,” she said.
As they celebrate 60 years in business, John said one of his most rewarding moments has been a recent visit by a man looking to purchase a pair of boots for a youngster.
“”He told me that his grandpa had brought him here for his first pair of boots and now he was doing the same, bringing his grandson in for his first boots,” said John. “We have been really fortunate that we have had really good, loyal employees and the same can be said for our customers. We have met a lot of really good people over the past 60 years.”