Geraldine Hudson has been helping men pick out clothes for more than 50 years.
She has guided them through camel hair, houndstooth, seersucker and saddle oxfords.
Solid or stripes? Pleats? French cuffs?
Geraldine knows her gaberdine.
If you see a fellow walking down Cotton Avenue wearing a charcoal gray suit with a green tie, chances are Geraldine helped him pick it out at Bowen Brothers Clothiers.
It has always been one of her favorite combinations. She has been going green for years.
Friday is the final day of business for Bowen Brothers, where Geraldine has been selling mens clothes near the corner of Third and Mulberry since it opened in 1982.
For several weeks, the store has been holding one of those everything must go sales, right down to the fixtures. Owner Harry Bowen has been sending so many tables and chairs out the door, his friends have teased him about moving more furniture than Bert Maxwell.
If there are any handkerchiefs left, Geraldine might want to hold on to a few.
Weve all been a little teary-eyed about closing, she said.
George and Harry Bowen opened the mens store 32 years ago after beginning their careers in the clothes business at Jos. N. Neel and Stephens department stores on Cherry Street.
They called themselves the Bowen Brothers, and Geraldine might as well have been their Bowen Sister.
Ive always told her shes the big sister I never had, Harry said. My daughter (Tracy) calls her Aunt Gerri.
George retired in 2009, and Harry made the decision to close the store late last year. Geraldine has been like a right hand to the haberdashers.
Besides me and my wife (Elaine), she is the only person who has a key to this place, he said.
Her world of button-downs began with the buttons on an elevator.
In 1961, the elevator operator at Jos. N. Neel called in sick, and Geraldine was eventually hired as her replacement.
She later began answering the phones before moving to the sales floor, where her personality made her a natural.
Growing up, she never could have imagined selling fashionable clothes to bankers and lawyers who drove fancy cars and ate lunch at the country club.
She was raised by her grandmother on Plant Street, across from the projects of Tindall Heights. Her grandmother, Rosa Mae Harrington, made all of Geraldines clothes.
Geraldine had wanted to become a nurse but never had the opportunity. After graduating from Ballard-Hudson High School in 1958, she went to work at a neighborhood grocery store on Alabama Street.
At Neels, she began her long friendship with the Bowens. She left retail sales for a brief time and did some substitute teaching. As a single mother with four children, including twin boys, she was hired by the Bowens a few months after the store opened on the ground floor of what is now the Wells Fargo building and Bibb County Board of Education offices.
She never was keen on selling ladies apparel. The styles change so much. She was more comfortable helping men match colors and find the correct neck size and sleeve length.
A man would sometimes come in and tell me that he wore a size 42 suit. I would look at him and say, No, youre a 44, and I would be right, she said, laughing.
Geraldine was on a first-name basis with most of her customers. She had the gift of remembering faces and the smarts to know how much people love to hear the sound of their own names.
She kept a large, leather book filled with names and business cards. She would call several times a year to let folks know the store was having one of its trunk sales.
Her contact book was so thick she had to hold it together with rubber bands. She went through it the other day, reminiscing as if she was turning the pages of an old scrapbook.
She has always been gracious with everybody, Harry said. She treats everyone with the same courtesy.
On many days, the men would gather by the big window that looks out Mulberry Street across from the federal courthouse. They would talk about baseball and fishing. There was a TV, along with several books and sports memorabilia. A customer once named it the Chitty Chat Cafe.
Geraldine wasnt always able to keep up when the conversation turned to Braves trade rumors or the merits of the designated hitter. But she never missed a chance to brag that her son, Shelton, played on Southwest High Schools 1978-79 national championship basketball team.
The store is almost empty, and she imagines she will have an empty feeling, too, when the lights are turned out for the last time.
She will take her memories with her. And they will be more than enough.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.