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Van Atkins today is steeped in history and family legacy. Once a department store, today it is a premiere jewelry store in New Albany, Mississippi.
Earl VanHook was right out of school and was eager to learn a business. Like so many young men, he sought the advice of a seasoned businessman. O. M. Atkins was the most successful businessman in Paragould, Arkansas, and admired by VanHook. Since he had no experience, VanHook offered to work for six months without pay if Mr. Atkins would agree to mentor him into the retail profession. After one month Earl VanHook had proven his worth and was put on salary. In fact, after six months he had earned the position of store manager. With his proven record, Earl VanHook and Mr. Atkins in a 50/50 arrangement purchased a store in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Mr. Atkins put up the money, and Earl VanHook did the work.Even though the store was named "Joseph's," the new corporation of Van Atkins was born. World War II changed everything, and Joseph's was sold.Warren Cooper, a poor country boy, grew up just outside Paragould, Arkansas. His mom died when he was 7 years old, and his father moved him to Paragould along with his 4 siblings. He took a job managing the town cemetery. Maudell VanHook was the younger sister of Earl VanHook and grew up in Dixie, Arkansas. Dixie had a school, one general store, and two cotton gins. Maudell was a farm girl and had her daily chores that included pick-ing cotton in the fall. She met Warren Cooper their senior year of high school and married him February 6, 1941. By early 1942, Warren and Earl were servicemen during World War II and returned to Arkansas after the war. Earl VanHook, Warren Cooper, Mr. Atkins, and Earl's younger brother, Alvin purchased Rhea's Hardware and Furniture in Corning Arkansas. In 1949 the first officially named Van Atkins Dry Goods store opened in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Soon stores were opening across Arkansas. Warren recalls the day several merchants came to him and asked him to close his store on Wednesdays at noon as they were doing. Right next door, there was a five and dime store owned by a bright young man named Sam Walton. Upon asking Walton's advice, he replied, "You can't do business when you are closed!" Van Atkins never closed on Wednesdays at Walton's advice. In 1959 Warren and Maudell Cooper moved to New Albany, Mississippi, to run Mississippi's first Van Atkins.
They had four children: Barbara, Kathy, Bill, and Chuck. At the age of 10, Chuck began his retail career under the checkout at Van Atkins selling candy. By 12, he would work the Christmas season in the men's gift and cologne department. It was in his blood. His life changed in 1980 as a freshman at Northeast when he met Rhonda Avent of Corinth, Mississippi. By September they were officially datir. Van Atkins had always had a strong costume jewelry business but did not carry fine jewelry. In December 1980, Chuck took some of his candy money and purchased about $1200 in gold chains to see if he could sell them. Gold necklaces were very popular, and each week as chains were sold, more were ordered. In 1982 Chuck and Rhonda transferred to Ole Miss. Chuck was in pre-med, and Rhonda majored in accounting. At Ole Miss, Chuck sold his first diamond as well as thousands of twist beads that were so popular. By graduation, he made the decision that his love of retail would override medical school. So in 1985 the first official jewelry department was added to Van Atkins. And yes, Chuck and Rhonda married in 1986. Over the next few years, stores with jewelry departments were opened in Ripley, Amory, and Booneville, Mississippi, and Red Bay, Alabama. In 1990 Chuck bought the first estate piece, a platinum filigree ring. The workmanship was extraordinary, and customers were drawn to its dainty, delicate features. The ring sold quickly and another was purchased. Estate pieces are beautiful offerings at Van Atkins. Chuck's passions of buying them and refurbishing them to exquisite pieces make them popular with his customers. Collectors know Van Atkins will have the best to choose from when they desire vintage jewelry. As of November of 2014, Van Atkins has a new home in historic downtown New Albany. While the new shop is beautiful, it still has the hometown charm that has made a visit to Van Atkins feel like you are with family.
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