Lewis Downing is the proprietor of Downing & Sons, an iconic Anniston general store specializing in fabrics and garden and lawn supply. Downing & Sons is holding a contest on Facebook; everyone who “likes” and “shares” their post from June 15 will be entered into a drawing for a $300 fabric shopping spree at Downing & Sons.
Are you originally from Anniston?
I was born in Birmingham, but I grew up here. I went to 10th Street Elementary School and was a member of the first graduating class at Sacred Heart High School. I went to the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University, but I never finished my degree. My mother worked for The Anniston Star. One of her responsibilities was to occasionally check the copy before it printed. I loved to come with her because the guys in the print shop would show us the machinery. I loved the ink smell. I grew up on Gurnee Avenue at the store. I did not know I would end up back there, but looking back, I think I am on the right course.
Tell us about the history of Downing & Sons.
We opened in 1963. My grandmother wanted a store. There was a Mary Carter Paint Supply Store downtown across the street from where we are now. My granddad always told me — and I do not know how much of this is actually true — that he went to get my grandmother a gallon of paint at the store, and the owner offered to sell him the store for $600. He bought it, and we started as Mary Carter Paint Supply. That chain went bankrupt in the late ’60s or early ’70s, then we opened a line with True Value Paint and Hardware. My grandmother wanted to sell fabric and sewing notions, so we started selling those as well.
What items are available at Downing & Sons today?
We have anything from vegetable garden and lawn supply to insecticides and herbicides and fertilizers. We really like our organic line of potting soil and fertilizers. We have seeds and plants. We also have our interior side: drapery fabric, upholstery fabric and leather hides. We also cut upholstery foam.
How do you decide what fabric to sell at your shop?
We put a lot of effort into buying our fabrics. We go out on the road and find fabrics. We find high quality fabrics at great values. We work really hard to do that.
What is your job at Downing & Sons?
I am the proprietor. I usually get there around quarter of 8. I get the store opened up and put out all the plants. Once I am done with that, I will start doing whatever needs to be done: sweeping floors, paying bills, helping customers, making orders or anything else.
Do you enjoy what you do?
Yes. I think if you cannot make a living and enjoy what you are doing, then it is not worth doing. You need to be able to make a living and have fun at the same time.
What is it about your job that makes it fun?
Interacting with people. We do such a wide range of things that this job never gets boring. It is fun to help people figure out what is going to work for their projects.
Tell us about Downing & Sons’ employee Greta.
Greta is there every day. She is my companion and has been ever since I found her as a 3- or 4-week-old puppy on my friend’s farm. I did not have anywhere else for her to go while I was working, so I brought her, and I have never stopped bringing her. She will be 10 years old in September.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at email@example.com.