Camden Home to Two of State's Oldest Companies

by John Henry  on Monday, Mar. 15, 2004 12:00 am  

Camden, a city of about 13,000 residents, boasts two of the oldest businesses in Arkansas: Stinson's Jewelers, founded in 1847, and Proctor Funeral Home, which dates to 1868.

James F. Stinson is the fourth generation of his family to run Stinson's Jewelers at Camden. And, in all likelihood, he'll be the last.

George H. Stin-son, Jim's great-grandfather, opened the business in 1847 after moving to Arkansas from Bath, Maine. He passed it on to his son, John Mc-Collum Stinson, who passed it on Jim's father, John M. Stinson Jr.

Jim, however, has never married, and although he has a brother who lives near Washington and a sister who lives at Dallas, it's not likely that either will return to Camden to take over the store when Jim decides to retire.

That doesn't mean the end is imminent. Jim is 55 and has no plans for stepping down.

"I don't believe in retirement," he said. "I'll probably work until I have a heart attack. Actually, I'll work as long as the public allows us to stay open."

Jim started working at the store for his father at the age of five, to make enough money to get some candy down the street. He's been at it full time since 1970.

"I've been married to the store," he said.

A certified gemologist and member of the American Gem Society, Stinson said his predecessors built the store on integrity and service.

Despite being in a town that has declined in population and was hurt by the closing of the International Paper Co. mill several years back, Stinson said customers — even those who have moved to either coast — have continued to do business with the store.

"We do a tremendous amount of business by telephone," Stinson said. "Our customers are important to us, and they are very loyal.

"My father always taught me that every customer is important, whether they're buying a $5 watchband or a $10,000 necklace.

Another reason the store has a national clientele is because Stinson's father, John M. Stinson Jr., served as president of the Jewelers of America for 12 years, beginning in the 1970s. As he traveled around the country, he met people who introduced him to new jewelry lines, which added to the store's reputation.

That reputation has spread primarily by word of mouth, Stinson said. He doesn't have an Internet Web site. "We've been very fortunate," he said, "in having loyal customers who trust us and continue to do business with us even after they move away."

Proctor Funeral Home

Camden, one of the oldest towns in south Arkansas and on the Ouachita River, has a second company, Proctor Funeral Home, that has been in business for more than 100 years.

Like a lot of other funeral homes, it got its start in the back room of a furniture store, this one owned by brothers Jesse and George Proctor. After several years they were joined by another brother, Shade B. Proctor, who eventually took over the furniture store after Jesse's death.

In the mid-1800s, most caskets were home-made. But S.B. Proctor made caskets for the more well-to-do folk of the area, and the funeral home grew out of that, said Richard Mosley, president of Proctor and the fifth generation of the family to run the business that began in 1868.

When Shade Proctor died in 1927, his brother-in-law, Reece Lockett, Mosley's great-great uncle, took over the furniture company and the funeral home. He expanded the business by adding an ambulance service and sold both businesses to his son, Thomas Lockett, in 1935. The younger Lockett also added to the business by selling burial insurance, even though the average cost of a funeral was usually $100-$300.

Thomas Lockett, Richard Mosley's great-uncle who is now in his 90s, sold the funeral home and furniture store to G.R. Mosley, Richard's father, in 1970.

Richard Mosley, 44, who graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1981, began working at the funeral home in 1982. He has two sons, both teen-agers.

"Who knows?" he replied when asked if either will someday take over the funeral home.

The funeral home performs about 220 services a year, Mosley said.

It has been at several locations in the city and at its present location since 1960. It has, however, undergone several renovations and expansions to add staterooms.

The secret of the successful business, Mosley said, is "to treat people the way you would want to be treated.

"We see people at the worst times of their lives. We do our best to treat them with kindness, patience and with compassion and by offering them a professional service with dignity.

"We're a service business, and we're there to do whatever the customer wants," Mosley said.



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