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VOL. 39 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 8, 2015

Lipscomb-area jewelers dazzle both sides of Granny White

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Draper Jewelers is among the thriving businesses on the retail strip across from Lipscomb University.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

When the blonde left-fielder skidded across the outfield grass attempting in vain to catch a tricky hit, she likely didn’t know she was “visiting” – belly down – a well-fertilized, close-cropped living memorial to the man who spread love of Lipscomb from his jewelry store a couple hundred yards away.

Robert Draper – also known as “Bob” and, to his peers who remembered his hair color, “Red” – loved Lipscomb University athletics. He also loved the business where he spent his life, first on Church Street and then for decades in the unnamed strip center just across Granny White Pike from the university.

“We trace our business back to 1944,” says Draper’s son-in-law, Craig Hartline. “Mr. Reale, we believe, was a watchmaker, and he bought a business called Model Jewelers in 1912. My father-in-law went into business with him on Church Street, and it became Reale & Draper.”

When Reale retired, Draper kept that store flourishing, adding in 1960 the location where Lipscomb students have been getting diamond engagement rings and the like for five and a-half decades.

“He read the writing on the wall,” Craig says. “People were not going to shop downtown and were going to shop in the suburbs.”

“The suburbs,” of course, long have moved farther out in Nashville than the retail strip on Granny White that’s now in the heart of south Nashville and at the edge of Green Hills.

Enlisting in that commercial flight from downtown, Draper shuttered the Church Street store to focus his energies on the Granny White store that first was located in the building now housing The Well coffee shop.

About 1970, he moved a few storefronts down, into the space occupied by Landon Hardware, which he purchased. For many years, a person could buy nuts and bolts and hammers in the back of the narrow store and gold, diamonds and deluxe trinkets in the front.

“He kept the hardware store going back there until five or six years after Mr. Landon passed,” Craig says. “But we couldn’t compete after the big stores, like Home Depot, came in.”

The back space the hardware store occupied now is used as a space for making custom jewelry, repairing watches and engraving photo frames, silver platters, plaques and the like.

On this day, engraver Eric Adkins is preparing graduation awards for Harpeth Middle School. “This is our busiest time,” he says as he places another blank in the machine and works the magic that puts the words on it.

“We do mostly gifts for graduation,” says Craig, about this time of the year when he joins Eric to engrave at a – at least by staid jewelry store standards – fever pitch.

“Their mothers and fathers will come in for a specific gift. We do a lot of engraving for high school and a lot of engraving for several of the private schools that give things to their seniors,” Craig says of the salutatorian and valedictorian awards that join other engraved honors on the shelf by Eric’s work station.

And there also are the engraved graduation gifts.

“For young ladies, we do everything from small jewelry boxes to picture frames,” Craig says. “For the guys we will do pocket knives, pewter pencil cups, money clips, things of that nature.”

Those are the $10-$15 gifts from friends and neighbors, but “mothers and fathers who come in and buy things for their graduates usually spend a little bit more money.”

His wife, Mary Pat Hartline – daughter of Bob/Red/Robert Draper – listens in on bits of our conversation (perhaps doing a bit of fact-checking?) as she tends to customers in the store where she began to work at age 13 and 41 years later runs with her spouse.

“It’s all right, but some days it’s a challenge,” she says, with a laugh, when asked the difficulty level of working year-round within a few feet of her husband. “We’ve made it work.”

And they’ve been making it work ever since they met at a freshman mixer at then-David Lipscomb College. “I met her on my first day of college,” says Craig. “Met her roommate, too.”

A somewhat smitten Craig decided to ask the roommate out to an on-campus showing of Superman, but when he got to the room “she wasn’t there.”

Mary Pat was. And she was happy to go with this dandy fellow to watch the 1978 film featuring Chris Reeve saving the world in blue long johns, red briefs and a wind-blown cape.

The romance flourished, even after Mary Pat got her business degree in 1984, all the while working for her dad. Craig got his business communication degree in 1984.

The young woman at the jewelry store was the old jeweler’s most valuable asset as the store traveled into the future.

“Basically what happened was I was interviewing with South Central Bell, and they offered me a job. I came and talked to (Mr. Draper) about it, and he offered me a job, with the incentive that I’d be working with Mary Pat,” Craig says through a large smile.

“I knew I was going to get married to her, no doubt. I guess I was just tenacious and I wouldn’t let her go.”

They married in 1988, two years after he joined the Drapers in their jewelry making, repairing and selling business.

Wife and husband remain diehard Lipscomb boosters, as was Mary Pat’s pop, who died in 1989. “He went to school at Lipscomb when it was just a two-year college. He had a huge love for the university.”

Draper freely displayed his Bison-to-the-bone pride, Craig says, adding “my father-in-law was a huge supporter of Lipscomb athletics … one of the founding members of the Bison Club.”

That love is memorialized at Draper Diamond, Lipscomb’s lush women’s softball field.

Engraver Eric Adkins keeps busy preparing graduation awards in this busy season for Draper Jewelers.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

“About seven years ago, (Lipscomb athletics officials) came to us and asked if we’d like to build the softball field for the girls at the university and call it Draper Diamond,” says Craig.

“We thought it was a great honor for Mr. Draper because of his work at the university and what he did for athletics.

“It was to honor him more than anything.”

Occasionally, Craig says, if the girls are playing a night game after he’s closed shop at 5:30, he and Mary Pat will visit the monument to the jeweler and cheer on the Lady Bisons.

“The girls do real well,” he says. “They’ve got a great coach and have been very successful the last seven or eight years. It’s great.”

Not far from a glass case glistening with diamond rings and the like hangs the dedication plaque for Draper Diamond – decorated by an artist’s rendering of the ballpark.

Craig and Mary Pat, both 54, are the second generation working here. But they are serving their fourth generation, the descendants of Red Draper’s customers.

The Hartlines stay true to the family tradition.

“My father-in-law had a great philosophy on business: ‘If you want a gift here that’s $10, we’ve got two or three things for $10. If you want something with diamonds for $10,000, we’ve got two or three things for $10,000.”

The rest falls somewhere between. “Regardless of your station in life, you can find something here,” he says.

Since the two have no children, there’s no clear picture of the store’s long-term future.

“My wife and I are young enough that we’ve hopefully got another 10 or 15 years here working until we decide we want to enjoy the latter part of our lives,” says Craig.

After that? “We don’t know. “We have nephews and nieces that may be interested. We’ll just have to see.

“If no one is interested in taking over, that would be a sad thing, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

“You never know what God has in store for you. As an old country song goes: ‘If you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans.’”

As he laughs, I chime in with a less-spiritual John Lennon lyric: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

“That’s right,” agrees Craig who – with Mary Pat – attends Granny White Church of Christ, nestled by the university campus.

Sunday is the only day the store is closed. Hours are 8:30-5:30 weekdays and 8:30-3 on Saturday.

“We firmly believe that all of our blessings come from God, and all our talents or assets are given to us by God, and we have to steward them properly,” he says.

That means spending the Sabbath with family and church friends.

“As (the Chick-fil-A founder) said ‘If I can’t make a living being closed one day a week, then I don’t need to be open,’” Craig says.

It also means they exercise their beliefs in the little store, where they “fairly and ethically conduct business in such a way that people know you are honest and trustworthy.”

The non-descript and nameless (“none of us can agree on a name,” Craig says) shopping strip now includes a coffee house, a bookstore, a barber, a restaurant, a place for frozen treats and the jewelry store.

It is the now-vanishing type of strip center that back in the pre-“it city” days used to be the center of just about every residential neighborhood.

Perhaps it could be named for the old jeweler who did so many decades of business here.

But that’s really not necessary. His monument is across the street, where that Lipscomb left fielder, Brianne Welch, climbs to her feet and brushes at the dirt and grass stains from Draper Diamond … named for the place Mr. Draper sold his diamonds.

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