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At 95, Dahlonega clothing shop owner not ready to retire
Parks has operated store founded by father for 60 years
Woodrow Parks has owned Parks Family Clothing just off the Dahlonega square for 60 years. - photo by Harris Blackwood

DAHLONEGA On any given day, you're likely to find Woodrow Parks at work. For 60 years, Parks has owned a women's clothing store in downtown Dahlonega.

At 95, he doesn't get up as early as he used to, but by midday, he's minding the store the same way he has since 1948.

He's been working in that same building, one of the oldest in Dahlonega, for 60 years.

"This building was built in 1855," he said.

In 1928, his father, Frank Parks, opened a general merchandise store. Young Woodrow, just 15, was the delivery boy.

"Sometimes I just delivered a loaf of bread," he said.

His experience in the store was called into use when he served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

During a stint in Hartford, Conn., he was appointed to operate the post exchange serving 1,000 servicemen.

"I told them that was right down my alley," he said. "They assigned me a Jeep and I would go into Hartford every day and buy supplies."

His wartime service took him up and down the East Coast before shipping off to Brazil and then to North Africa.

In time, he would provide supplies for bomber pilots heading off for missions on D-Day.

"I remember them flying over and couldn't imagine we had that many planes," he said.

After the war, Parks and his mother, Sally, decided to convert the general store into a women's ready-to-wear store.

He learned how to buy and display clothing and accessories and despite being legally blind, still goes to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta with one of his nieces to select the items that will fill the racks of Parks Clothing Store.

The old general merchandise store survived the Great Depression, including a time when the government was offering free commodities across the street. It was the same items the Parks family was trying to sell in their store.

"My dad had a lumber yard and he was buying lumber from people so they could trade it for groceries," he said.

In time, the senior Parks had more wood than he could use and decided to build some houses in Dahlonega.

"They built seven houses out of that lumber and five of them are still standing," he said.

The roots of the Parks family run deep in Lumpkin County. Woodrow Parks' great-grandfather, Benjamin Parks, made the first discovery of gold in Lumpkin County, leading to the first U.S. gold rush in 1828.

There is no gold rush now. Parks said business is tough.

"It isn't good," he said. "I hope it's going to get better."

He said he does a lot of business from tourists visiting Dahlonega, but the past fall brought record high gasoline prices that kept many visitors away.

"I need a few more of them," he said.

He faces additional competition from national retailer Wal-Mart, which operates a supercenter on the outskirts of town.

Parks said he is amazed at the changes he has seen in his lifetime.

"Oh, Lord, I get to thinking about it and wonder where in the world have I been all these years," Parks said. "I'm just thankful to the good Lord that I'm able to get around and can remember what I do."

He said he still loves coming to work and can't imagine not being there.

"I guess I've just got this business in me," he said, adding, "I'm too young to retire."