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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Historical perspective: Pratt a shopping destination

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  • City leaders promote Pratt as a destination for shopping. The same could be said a century ago, when the W.E. Jett Mercantile Company anchored the business district. The first store opened in 1906 and was named for one of the owners, but always managed by the Farmer family, which bought all outside interests in 1949. The building, now occupied by Sears, was built in 1917, and was designed for the addition of three stories if businesses warranted.
    As today, the Christmas season was the "harvest," according to Helen Miller, the youngest of the Farmers, who worked in the store established by her father and uncles, and followed four brothers into the business.
    She recalls that the Christmas rush didn't start as early as today, but that the store stayed open every evening (except Sunday, when it was closed) during December. Extra help was hired to take care of customers.
    At its peak, Jetts employed 50 or more year-round workers, but Miller believes the number was closer to 30 during her tenure, 1952 until the store closed in 1986.
    Shoppers came from surrounding towns, and they knew they could find what they wanted at Jetts. A woman could buy a new outfit and accessorize with shoes and a hat. There were departments for men and children, and until sometime in the 1930s or '40s, a full line of groceries.
    Miller's "baby" was the gift and housewares department.
    She and brother Bob went to market twice a year in Chicago, then as that market became so large, they switched to Dallas. It was smaller and more manageable at the time, but has grown to gigantic proportions since.
    During the first of the four- or five-day trip, they looked before making commitments to buy. Miller said she relied on her own tastes, and that she and her brother usually agreed on what they liked.
    "Sometimes I hit it and sometimes I didn't," she said, explaining the difficulty in deciding what someone else would want and be able to buy.
    By the 1980s, the business climate had changed, and large department stores in small towns were not so successful. It was easy for customers to drive to Wichita, and in larger markets, merchandise goes on sale after being displayed for just a month.
    "It was hard to compete," Miller said. "And after 35 years, I was ready to retire."
    Leaving behind the store where she had grown up was a big change, however. As a little girl, she had gone to the store on Sunday afternoons with her father, where she could try on clothes and play at making sales and sending transactions to the office via a cable and basket system.
    Jetts stores were also located in Herington, Anthony and Wellington in Kansas and Blackwell, Ponca City and Alva, Okla. The store in Anthony retains the Jetts name.
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