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Popular Big G stores thrived in ’80s

POSTED: January 10, 2014 11:11 p.m.
/Times file photo

Jim Reedy, right, was a store manager for Gibson's when this picture was taken but later became president of Big G. Gibson's was the precursor to Big G. Jim Baker, left, was president of Gibson's in Gainesville.

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There was a department store called Big G that was here in Gainesville in the 1980s. When did it open and what happened to it?

Big G arose out of the Gibson’s chain of discount stores, according to The Times’ archives. The first store was opened by Gainesville resident Jim Reedy, who was the president of Gibson’s of Gainesville and Athens at the time, on Aug. 15, 1979, after acquiring Mason’s Department Store, which was located on Browns Bridge Road.

The name “Big G” was copyrighted under Gibson’s Products of Gainesville, and was meant to exemplify Gibson’s commitment to Gainesville and Georgia, because they started with the letter “G.”

Reedy and Jim Baker, who was the previous president of Gibson’s of Gainesville, helped establish the chain after working together at Gibson’s since the ’60s.

The chain would go on to thrive in North Georgia.

Local resident Ken Hudgins worked in advertising for The Times during this period, and worked with both Reedy and Baker.

“I remember Gibson’s fondly,” he said. “Jim Baker and Jim Reedy were sharp businessmen with good ideas on how to sell merchandise.

“They were cutting edge to say the least.”

Big G offered a wide variety of merchandise, from clothing and hair products to toys and groceries. With four stores — two in Gainesville, one in Athens and one in Cleveland — the chain became a fixture in Northeast Georgia.

In a 1989 article in The Times, Reedy recalled an amusing experience that describes the experience customers often received.

“We once sold a man an electric blanket, and he brought it back because it did not get warm. We soon discovered he did not have electricity and had no idea it needed to be connected to an outlet. Of course, we refunded his purchase price.”

At its peak, Big G had more than 200 employees. It was also one of the few retailers in Georgia that had an employee stock ownership plan, and workers owned a substantial part of the business.

However, big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart began outperforming Big G. In late 1989, the company closed three of its stores, leaving only the location in Cleveland. It was shuttered two years later.

At the time, Reedy cited competition and a bad economy as the reason behind the closing.

“It’s a sad happening, but it’s a sign of the times that things are bad economically,” he said. “They’re not going to get much better, I don’t think, in the short run.”
Both Reedy and Baker are now deceased.

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