This rollicking tale’s setting is 1960s Fort Bend County. Rigby Owen Jr., who became my lifelong best friend, bought The Fort Bend Mirror in East Fort Bend County where ad pickings were slim. So, this daring, bold mid-20s publisher decided to move the paper to mid-county. Shortly after he moved, he hired an equally young, cocky editor (me).
County seat Richmond and larger Rosenberg shared city limit signposts and presented a market several times that of Stafford, Missouri City and Sugar Land. We were told that with two well-established newspapers we wouldn’t stand a chance of the proverbial snowball in hell.
Duh, chimed the derring-do pair of young newspaper adventurers. We’ll show you.
Our competitors didn’t realize we had a few things going for us, not the least of which was youthful exuberance and a refusal to believe we couldn’t do something. It was a dare; a “knock-this-chip-off-my-shoulder” challenge that our youthful blind faith said, “We will succeed.”
We used a “new” printing process, offset. It allowed for very cheap but sparklingly clear and crisp reproduction of photos compared to the old letterpress process of raised metal type and costly photo engravings that limited picture usage of our competition.
We each carried a camera everywhere we went and shot everyone and everything that moved. We ran scores of photos in each issue and promoted that with an above-the-nameplate streamer declaring: “723 local citizens pictured in this issue.” (We counted everyone in every photo, including crowd shots).
Readers and advertisers loved it. All of a sudden we were sprinting toward success and lofty goals.
We became aware of a store in Richmond that, belying its unpretentious front, was the fashion center of Fort Bend County.
COUNTY SEAT Richmond’s population contained most of the wealthier residents, including descendants of some of Texas’ earliest Anglo settlers. Richmond was one of the first colonies of Stephen F. Austin, recognized as the “Father of Texas.”
Edelstein’s had two entrances. One led to the men’s, boys and shoe departments. There was a wall, perpendicular to the storefront, which had a large arched opening connecting the men’s side to the women’s department. A horseshoe counter wound through that archway so personnel could easily provide service. The cash register, packaging and gift-wrapping occupied that area.
The women’s side featured nice medium-priced women’s dresses and lingerie. The “old money” women were welcomed, taken to some nicely appointed, more private facilities in the back where moneyed folks were served complimentary wine as they tried on the latest chic (read that “expensive”) fashions.
The proprietress of this grandiloquent retailer was Mary Edelstein, a 70ish widow who’d had to take over the store at age 40 with absolutely no public work experience.
Mary, her daughter Evelyn Frapart and Evelyn’s husband, Ed, ran the store with the help of several employees.
Twice a year, Mary staged a style show at a local country club. Tickets were sold and the entire proceeds went to the Fort Bend County Retarded Citizens Council, a charity that took care of some of the needs of mentally and physically challenged people in the county.
IT WAS enormously popular and Richmond’s blue blood wealthy bought up the tickets to form a sellout luncheon style show.
Mary and I agreed on my shooting photos of all models and outfits and then she’d choose the best one of each model. We’d run them as a full page, half of which was considered news and half advertising. She thought that was a wonderful deal.
She and I shared a late night addiction to talk show television, particularly new star on the scene, Johnny Carson. We’d meet two or three mornings a week, about 10:30 when she arrived at the store, and have coffee and talk about Carson.
I teased Mary about eloping to Acapulco where I’d show her how to enjoy her money.
“Oh, Mr. Webb, you’re such a card,” she’d say with an embarrassed but pleased smile.
I truly loved Mary.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.