Family-owned store in Taylor County survives murder, Great Depression and pandemic

Posted at 8:07 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 00:57:38-05

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — If you want to learn about what it takes to keep a business afloat through the ups and the downs, look no further than Campbellsville, Kentucky.

Nestled in the heart of downtown is a family-owned store that's withstood the test of time. It's called Mitchell's Men's Wear and Laura Wilds has been the owner since 1990. The store itself, however, has been around since 1910. It's 111 years old.

Mitchell's Campbellsville.jpg
Mitchell's Men's Wear is located in downtown Campbellsville and has been around since 1910.

Laura's great uncle and grandfather opened the shop. Ten years later, they experienced a tragedy: Laura's great uncle was murdered.

"He liked his liquor probably more than he did anything and he had too much, and he was flirting with a lady and it scared her, and she called her husband and they had a shoot-out on Main Street," Wilds said.

Nearly a decade later the Great Depression hit.

"Grandad said that during the Depression he would put $5 in the drawer in the morning and a lot a lot of days, go home, take that same $5 out and take it home with him where he just made no money," she said.

The store made it through several other rough spots, including the 2008 recession and the 1980s, which she said was a rough time for the city.

"We had a lot of empty buildings," Wilds said. "We'd stand here and just watch trash blow down the street. I mean it was just sad in the 80s and a lot of places just didn't make it."

Then came their biggest challenge since the Great Depression: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mitchell's Men's Wear.jpg
Mitchell's Men's Wear has survived both the Great Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been a kick in the gut," Wilds said.

She and her store manager, Billie Joe Douglas, had to shut down for about three months. Their main source of income, selling suits for prom and weddings, was all but gone. In total, Wilds reports that they lost 50% of their business last year.

But they have persevered, adapting where possible. They have used social media to sell their items. They also reached out to their loyal customer base to increase sales during their second busiest time of year: Christmas.

"We just keep saying if Grandad survived the depression and recession, we can do this," Wilds said. "We will do this."

They're certainly being tested, but they're tailor-made for success. After all, time is on their side.