Each month Studio T features one of our retailers. This month we caught up with Laura, owner of Jack n’ Jill Shop. Learn about the story (and city’s) rich history below!
Have you always lived in Birmingham?
I was born to military parents while they were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. When I was 3 we moved to Fort McClellan, Alabama. When I was 4 my dad retired from active duty and we moved to Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. I graduated from Homewood High School in 1992 and then attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham for the next 4 years. My husband, son and myself live in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham.
How was your business born?
Jack n’ Jill is one of the most iconic children’s stores in Birmingham. We first opened our doors in 1954, right across the street from where we are now.
Back in those days we were owned by Mr. Burman and his wife Jeanette. When the neighbor Mr. Sikes from Sikes Children’s Shoes asked the Burmans to move in next door to his children’s shoe boutique and unite the two businesses for the convenience of the customers, Mr. Burman knew he couldn’t refuse. He made the hop, skip and a jump across the road, and the rest is history. Today our customers still come to us to buy an outfit for the children, head over to Sikes for a pair of matching shoes and then stroll down to Savages Bakery for a special post-shopping treat. It’s been that way for three generations, and we hope it continues for at least three more.
When the owners of Jack n’ Jill retired, the Sikes family officially purchased our store. For five decades, Frank Youngs, who married into the Sikes family in the 1960s, successfully owned and operated our store, telling riddles and spinning his yo-yo for his young customers. Meanwhile, next door in Sikes, a 16-year-old Laura Player (that’s me!) joined the team as a children’s shoe fitter, working her way through high school and college. In 1998, Mr. Youngs decided to open a second location in Hoover, Alabama, and I took over as the manager of that space before coming back to Homewood where it all began. Mr. Youngs then made me the manager of Jack n’ Jill. In 2014 I purchased both Sikes and Jack n’ Jill from Mr. Youngs.
Thanks to our wonderful customers, our business has continued to grow over the past 60 years. We’ve expanded beyond children’s clothing to include the latest trends ranging from premature babies up to size 16. We’ve also introduced a wide array of gift items—perfect for baby showers or birthday presents. (And we offer free gift wrapping.)
Today we are lucky enough to serve 3 generations of Birmingham’s own. On any given day of the week, you can find a grandmother in our store recounting fond memories of shopping for her own children while she shops for her grandchildren now. We feel blessed to have become an institution in Birmingham over the last 60 years. We’ve served your grandparents, and we would love to serve your children as well.
Tell us a little about your family history.
My mother was born in Cleveland, Ohio and my dad in St. Joseph Missouri. They met in Washington, D.C. while my mom was in college and my dad was stationed nearby with the Army. They married after my mother graduated from college and they moved to an army post in Germany. From Germany they lived in Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, St. Joseph, Missouri, and then the Panama Canal Zone. After my dad retired from active duty my parents decided to stay in Alabama because they liked the climate and the southern hospitality. My brother, Alan, was born and then we moved to Homewood which is where I still go to church and both of my stores are located.
Where is the last place you traveled?
The last place that I traveled was in June to Palm Springs, California. My husband and I spent four days basking in the sun by the pool, hiking the San Andreas fault line, and riding the aerial tram up to the highest point in the area.
Your best friend is visiting your city for the first time and only has 24 hours to explore—what would you tell them to do?
I would tell her to start with Linebacker Breakfast: 3 Eggs and a choice of 2 Meats including Bacon, Sausage Patties, or Sausage Links, Grits or Hash Browns, Toast or Biscuits, and a large bowl of Gravy at Bouge’s Restaurant on Clairmont Avenue South in Birmingham. Bouge’s has been serving breakfast in Bham since 1938 and they have been famous for their cinnamon sweet rolls which the locals call “sticky buns.”
After breakfast I would suggest taking in some of the historical sites. Birmingham played a crucial part in the Civil rights Movement of the 1960’s and we have a wonderful museum located on 16th Street North, right across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where 4 young African American girls were killed in 1963 during a church bombing.
After visiting the museum and church I would suggest heading to the North side of Birmingham to eat lunch at Niki’s West. Niki’s has been serving 3 meals a day, cafeteria style, since 1957. All of their meat, fruit and vegetable selections are prepared fresh daily (never canned) and they are known for excellent service! There can be 50 people waiting in the cafeteria line and I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes to get to served.
Once you are stuffed from lunch you will want to travel on to Rickwood Field, which is the oldest standing professional baseball park in the United States. Opening in 1910 Rickwood was the home to the Minor league team the Birmingham Barons and then in the 1940’s the Birmingham Black Barons. Such greats as Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Reggie Jackson played at Rickwood Field. It’s definitely a “must see” in Birmingham!
After exploring the historic Rickwood Field you will want to head over to the Birmingham Baron’s new baseball stadium, Region’s Park. Opening in 2013 and centrally located at 14th street and 1st Avenue South the Park has fabulous views of the city.
By now it’s time for dinner… I would suggest heading over to Highland’s Bar & Grill for a gourmet meal cooked by the legendary Frank Stitt. Highland’s has been honored with several national awards including ranking 5th in 2001 in Gourmet magazine’s “50 Best American Restaurants.”
When dinner is finished you have to take the short car ride from Highland’s to Vulcan Park. The Vulcan statue is the largest cast iron statue in the world, and is the city symbol of Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry. The 56-foot tall statue depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. Taking the elevator to the top at night you can view the entire skyline of Birmingham, a truly beautiful site at night.
What advice do you have for local mothers?
Since I also own a children’s shoe store, my advice to new mothers is to make sure that their babies feet are measured and fit by a specialist in the correct length and width shoe. Children only have one set of feet to walk with and they need to feel good for a lifetime to come.
What types of events and promotions do you run in your boutique?
We have two semi-annual 50% off sales. Our spring sale starts the weekend after Memorial Day and our fall sale starts on the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend. Our next big sale will be the Downtown Homewood Sidewalk Sale on Saturday, July 26th. All of the merchants on 18th Street markdown all their summer goods and put them out on the sidewalk to drive traffic into the stores.
What is one thing your customers would be surprised to learn about you?
My customers may be surprised to learn that I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Political Science. In high-school I was an officer in Airforce Junior R.O.T.C for 4 years and also participated in the Boy Scouts Explorer program for law enforcement. The Explorer program gave me the chance to wear a uniform and do ride alongs every weekend with the Homewood Police Department. I know all the police radio codes and can shoot a 9mm Glock at marksmanship level. I even worked on Wednesday nights at the police station processing female prisoners into the local jail. Not many people can say that they have been in a high speed car chase inside a police car, which crashed!