Loyal customers have been visiting Saul’s on the downtown Gainesville Square for 79 years. But times change and those customers will be forced to change with them as Saul’s closes for good.
“I think we were due to do this, mainly because I didn’t have the steam to do what I needed to do to be successful,” said Lawrence “Lorry” Schrage, who took over the business after his father, William “Bill” Schrage, died in 2001. “I was stubborn, I guess. It’s a different world.”
Where: 100 Main St. SW, Gainesville
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday
The store has long been the place for women in Gainesville to go for something nice to wear. It’s a high-end place that offers everything from shoes to jackets.
Schrage said he’s been thinking about this decision for a while after seeing the market change over the past few years.
“I don’t like it closing,” said Louise Freeman, who shopped at Saul’s for 21 years before moving to Athens last year. “This is where I come to buy things that are special, like for weddings. If I’m going somewhere and I need to dress up, this is where I would come. It’s hard to find a store that caters to that.”
Saul’s started out in the building that is now Atlas Pizza, then moved to the other side of the square where a new condominium complex is planned. It’s that sort of development that helped Schrage make the decision to close. He said “there’s a lot happening here” so it just seemed like the right time.
But that kind of development is what also has some customers upset.
Beth Davidson, a retired educator who has lived in Gainesville her whole life, said she doesn’t like change. She wants to see local businesses like Saul’s stay around and not be pushed out by new operations.
“It was just like if you wanted something nice, there were a couple of stores and this was one of them to come to,” Davidson said.
She was disappointed when she heard the news, broken to her by a letter in the mail. But she said that’s the kind of person Schrage is — the type to send a letter, breaking the news to customers. That’s how he ran his business and why she is sad to see it go.
The letter was sent to Saul’s customers, informing them the store was closing. In it, Schrage told them the story of how the store began, and how appreciative he was of their support over the years.
“Used to be, you’d go into stores and you’d know everybody,” Schrage said. “Our customers are our friends. They come in and they know us, and that’s hard to do in a big-box store. We know what they like and what they don’t like.”
Schrage said a lot of his success came from luck. He was lucky to have found a space downtown and then watch it grow. He was lucky to have customers who were loyal and kept coming back.
He said he was even lucky after the store moved and he was afraid of the current location looking empty. He decided to buy a bunch of tops to fill the space, and that turned out to be a good year for tops.
Saul’s is the type of place women bring their children to share stories of what they did when they were young. Davidson’s mother took her to Saul’s when she was younger, and she brought her own daughter to shop there as well.
Gola Godfrey has been a sales associate at Saul’s for more than 17 years and couldn’t imagine not keeping Saul’s in her family after her mother bought her shoes there at one of its previous sites.
“I bought my two children’s shoes here, and my three grandchildren and my great grandson’s shoes here,” Godfrey said. “That’s four generations.”
Schrage said he has always wanted the business to be like that, about the customers. He called them friends and said not seeing them every time he’s in the store will be the hardest part about closing.
“For me, the problem is I know I’m going to miss my customers,” Schrage said. “And that’s difficult, to say the least.”
Before he closes the doors, though, everything in the store will be on sale until it is gone. Then, he’ll sell the building and hope whatever replaces Saul’s is something that adds more character to the square.
“I hope that whoever takes over the property will be a great thing for the town, the community and the square.” Schrage said. “Because I think the square is very important.”