When Jewell Hunt opened J and J Fashions in Rocky Mount in 1968, she knelt in the doorway and prayed.
If God would help the business succeed, she promised to use the business as a ministry.
J and J Fashions is celebrating 45 years in business this year, and Hunt and her daughter, who has taken over the store, attribute its success to their Christian beliefs, “hard work, and truly treating people the way you want to be treated,” Hunt said.
“We have people who come in and they don’t have any interest in shopping, but they come here because they know we care,” said Hunt’s daughter, Sheila Copenhaver .
Hunt started her career in retail at the age of 14 working at a Sample Shoe store in downtown Rocky Mount. As an adult she worked for Leggett first in the children’s department, and then as a sportswear buyer for the store.
She opened J and J Fashions in the same storefront where her retail career began – the former shoe store space on Franklin Road.
Copenhaver worked with her mother at the store through high school and college. She continued in retail with a furrier after she married and moved to Germany with her husband, who was in the military.
Once back in Virginia, she resumed working at J and J Fashions. Hunt, 79, gave Copenhaver ownership of the store four years ago, although Hunt still works at the shop about four days a week.
On Copenhaver’s first day as owner, she and her mother again knelt in the doorway and prayed for the success of the store so they could continue giving back.
They have made good on their promise, they said.
The store has donated to the Red Cross, United Way and soup kitchens, Hunt said.
Perhaps their greatest contribution, the women said, is helping and caring for the women who shop in their store.
Copenhaver recalled a woman who came into her store and took some items into the dressing room. The customer had been in the dressing room for a while when Copenhaver asked if she was OK. When she got no response, she opened the dressing room door to find the woman in only her underwear, covered in bruises.
“I said, ‘Honey, you need some help. No one should have to go through this,’ ” Copenhaver said. She prayed with the woman and offered to get her help.
Hunt has volunteered her time and her merchandise to funeral homes.
In one instance, Hunt said, she choose the most expensive dress and scarf in her store and took it to a funeral home for a woman who had died and didn’t have anything suitable to be buried in .
A woman at the funeral recognized the way the scarf was tied as Hunt’s work, and requested that Hunt tie her scarf at her funeral, Hunt said.
“It’s more than just a job to us,” Hunt said.
The store’s reputation stretches far beyond Franklin County. Copenhaver said they have customers who drive from Richmond and even from out of state. Earlier this month, Copenhaver was shipping an order to Nebraska, she said.
Among the lines J and J Fashions carries are French Dressing, FDJ, Sharon Young, Anuschka and Brighton. The store is the top seller in Virginia for Ming Wang, Copenhaver said.
The store also features some of Copenhaver’s jewelry designs, which are also distributed to other retailers.
Copenhaver is hopeful that her daughter, who is a personal shopper for J.Crew in Lynchburg, will someday take over the store.
For now, Copenhaver said she is going to continue with what’s kept the business successful for 45 years.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing the best we can,” Copenhaver said. “We are going to keep offering great customer service and offering what the customer wants.”
Also in the column, a Roanoke jeweler is semi-retiring and will be open by appointment only, and Audiotronics is moving its north Roanoke County store to the former Replay Games and DVD store on Williamson Road.