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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter business leaders important to local economy

By SAMMY WAY
Sumter Item archivist and historian
Posted 7/25/20

Reflections remembers two of Sumter's important retail business concerns. This research focuses on Tomlinson's and Ryttenberg's stores. The report utilizes articles and photos taken from The Item archives and articles from a 1934 edition of The …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter business leaders important to local economy

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Reflections remembers two of Sumter's important retail business concerns. This research focuses on Tomlinson's and Ryttenberg's stores. The report utilizes articles and photos taken from The Item archives and articles from a 1934 edition of The Herald Newspaper, and also utilized were selected magazine articles. In an article printed in The Herald Newspaper during the 1930s, "several businessmen of Sumter were recognized throughout the state as an energetic set, and they were credited with creating vast strides in the commercial importance of the city." A review without mentioning some of the leading mercantile establishments would be far from complete. Reflections has selected Tomlinson's Women's Wear and Ryttenberg's merchandise as its two enterprises to be researched. The articles pertaining to these establishments will be reprinted with a modicum of editing due to the length of the articles.

Tomlinson's - A women's department store

Research reports that Tomlinson's was a popular women's apparel store located at 10 S. Main St. This store featured quality above everything else. To this it added attentive, polite sales personnel and featured the latest styles. "Fashion conscious women found there the most exclusive raiment plus ultra-quality in a variety of colors and tint combinations, representing the newest materials and designs of the time." Tomlinson's ladies' wear appealed to the fashion-conscious shopper regardless of age. The inventory also featured the most exquisitely designed evening outfits. "The offerings also included a superb selection of pure silk hosiery, lingerie, millinery, blouses, sportswear, fall suits, afternoon frocks, house dresses, boudoir attire, etc." Visitors to Sumter congratulated Tomlinson's repeatedly on the quality of its merchandise.

"Everything in dry goods, piece goods, trimmings, laces, corsets, girdles, gloves and other accessories was found at Tomlinson's. The owner of this business, M. E. Tomlinson, was a proud native of Sumter County; however, he received his high school education in Olanta and later graduated from USC. He married Miss Nina Jane Hamel of Florence, and they had two sons: M. E. Jr. and Nicholas J. Tomlinson. Mr. Tomlinson was a Baptist and a Kiwanian. He opened his Sumter establishment in February 1931 with H. W. McCollum, a popular Sumter dry goods expert, as manager. Mr. McCollum proved to be successful and popular. Mr. Tomlinson was public spirited, popular, progressive, recognized as a conservative businessman and a merchant of the highest integrity. He was a member of the Board of Trade and one of Sumter's most ardent boosters. Tomlinson started his first store in Olanta and later opened additional stores in Florence, Lynchburg, Sumter, Lake City and Hemingway. In addition to his stores, Mr. Tomlinson had a large farming interest in Sumter and other counties."

The Ryttenbergs

J. Ryttenberg and his sons were primarily involved in the mercantile business, and by 1880, they built the largest store in Sumter located on the corner of North Main and Liberty streets. "The building was 34 feet wide and 150 feet deep with a warehouse attached at the rear. The firm of J. Ryttenberg and Sons consisted of four co-partners: the father and his three sons: M.G., Harry and J. E. Ryttenberg."

The building was divided into departments featuring every type of merchandise needed by the residents of Sumter. The dry goods department featured "dress goods, boots, shoes, etc.; another for groceries and hardware. As we inspect these various departments or subdivisions, one wonders how any of the patrons could determine what was in stock; but each department had a manager and an inventory system which took the place of guess work, everything moved along without confusion." The building featured some of the first gas fixtures as the Ryttenberg Co. was the first to use gas to light the interior of their store in Sumter. They owned the plant that supplied the gas, and it can be noted that the town was lighted by lamps at this time.

"The Ryttenberg firm invested heavily in the cotton market and annually purchased about 1,500 bales. Records indicate that "the company sold between 300 to 1,000 tons of fertilizers each year."

The store records note that the majority of their sales were purchased by citizens who resided within a 20-mile radius of the store. That is not to infer that they did not have a number of clients in other towns and states.

The most important feature of the Ryttenberg store which remained consistent throughout its existence "was their commitment to customer satisfaction." The firm later added the manufacturing of bricks to its list of goods to be marketed to the residents of Sumter.

The history of brick making in the Sumter community, however, begins with Mr. O. C. Hulbert, who constructed a brickyard on Florence Highway across from Santee Print Works. The report on the Ryttenberg involvement with brick making will be presented at a later date.