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Deraney’s ‘rag business’ was a downtown success story

By Kay S. Pedrotti ’That’s what they used to call it,’ Mable Deraney said. ‘If you sold clothing, you were in the rag business.’ The 82-year-old widow of Joe Deraney, with whom she worked in Barnesville for several decades, remembers their Main Street store as a place she loved. The couple learned the business from both their fathers who owned clothing stores, Mike Deraney and Richard Lewis. All of their parents were immigrants from Lebanon who were given Americanized new names at Ellis Island. ’We sold a little bit of everything,’ Mable says. ’Men’s and women’s clothing, shoes for the family, ties, lingerie, bedding and blankets, swimwear — just everything. Joe was the people person, always promoting, and I did the books in an upstairs office. Sometimes I’d be there until late at night. Joe would turn off all the lights so no one would know I was there alone.’ In all their years, she says, they were never robbed. Mable grew up in Smithville, N.C., and Joe in Griffin. They met when Joe’s sister married Mable’s father’s first cousin and the two families came together for the wedding. Joe and Mable had five sons, but lost two of them. Jim died at age 7 from brain cancer and Rick as an adult from an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. The family was into sports — Joe and Rick were star football players. Now Rick’s son John, described by Mable as one of her ‘host of grandchildren,’ is a star kicker at North Carolina State. Joe also coached softball teams, a men’s team and a women’s team — on which Mable was one of the pitchers. She said the other players called her ‘Mama’ and disparaged her talents, ‘but occasionally I surprised them, getting a hit or catching a long fly in the outfield.’ Mable’s mercantile career actually began when she was 11 years old, she says. She begged her father to let her work on a Saturday, and finally he gave in. ’I sold three men’s suits that day,’ she adds. ‘I guess they thought I was cute and a good talker. Daddy told me ‘˜you can come back and work every Saturday.” As soon as computers were introduced, Mable took a class at Gordon and has used computers ever since. Joe and Mable opened Deraney’s in Barnesville about 1955 after having had a store in Hampton for five years. She says when the fourlane bypassed Hampton to go from Lovejoy to Griffin, ‘everything just died.’ Their store, closed in 1996, was in the place where Verizon and Main Attraction are now, next to Slices Pizzeria, which was Elijah Wisebram’s department store. Joe and Elijah were ‘friendly competitors,’ says Mable. Members of Joe’s family also owned and operated Romeo’s in Barnesville. The family was involved from the start in the Barnesville mission congregation of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Griffin; the first service here for St. Ann’s was in the Deraney home. Later the congregation bought the Barnesville Academy building at Highway 341 and Redbud and renovated it to become the home of St. Ann’s. Now that congregation and a Thomaston mission have joined to form St. Peter The Rock, located between the towns. Most recently, Mable hosted the congregational swim party. She has been known for several Mediterranean dishes, but says she seldom cooks anymore.’I guess the part I liked best about the clothing store was when the husbands would come in and say, ‘˜You know my wife’s sizes and what she likes — pick me out something.’ That was fun.’ Longtime friend Jean Dukes says Mable ‘used to keep track of everything.’ If a member of the Baptist church bought a particular dress, Mable said, and another church member wanted the same one, ‘I’d say I’m sorry, I can’t sell you that, because someone from your church already has one.’ Dukes says she believes Mable was a talented salesperson and has always been a great friend.

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