All my life I have loved hardware and variety stores, and when I first interviewed Danny and LaDonna Vaughn back in 2011, I was intrigued both by their store and their story. Their store is located at 14535 Hwy 72 in Athens, and it is a legend in our town and beyond.
What makes J and G unique is that the place has more than 1,500 silk flower arrangements on display, along with every type of tool you could ever want or need. How did this come to be? Well, about 38 years ago, James and Gayle Vaughn opened up a small convenience store with the usual gas, milk, soda, bread and eggs. Gayle started doing the arrangements, which were mostly created for memorials, and it wasn’t long before that was the big draw to the store.
They moved from a 900 sq ft store to a 5,000 square ft shop, and it became apparent that the local men folk needed something to look through while their wives shopped for silk flowers. Enter the tools, with such well-known names as DeWalt, Skil, Black and Decker, and others, and the rest is history. No place in the Tennessee Valley can you find such brilliantly colored arrangements, and at such reasonable prices. Danny Vaughn, son of James and Gayle, and his wife LaDonna run the business now, and told me that several times a week he hears the following: “I went all over town looking for ________________, and you have it. From now on, I am coming here first!” This is music to his ears.
J and G Variety also carries welding supplies, as well as tactical equipment such as holsters, cross draw vests, ghillie suits, parachute cord, along with camping and survival gear. Danny Vaughn and Zack Zirbel hold down the tool side of the business.
The 5,000 sq ft building has been added on to five times, and now there is a grand total of 30,000 sq ft of retail space filled with pre-made arrangements, as well as tools, knives, house wares, home décor, and pet supplies. LaDonna, along with Wanda Johnson, Jody Taylor, Linda Blackwell, Brittney Chandler, (a third generation J and G-er,) and Debbie Jeffreys are the first ones you’ll meet and see hard at work when you walk in the door. They always greet me warmly, and they make a real point of taking care of people who need memorials for their loved ones. Whether it’s a floral saddle, something to fill an urn in a headstone, a sympathy basket, or an arrangement to be put on a casket. They are so good at what they do that people come from New York, Michigan, Indiana and all over Alabama to select either an existing arrangement on display, or have one custom made, and flower making supplies have to be ordered by the container full to keep up with the demand. One woman drives once a year during memorial season from North Carolina, picks up her arrangement, and drives back the same day to put it on the grave of her loved one. No one beats J and G’s prices, nor their dedication.
Danny told me, “Most florists will have around 100 saddles to view; no one has this level of visual display. A person can go through the boxes of ‘loose’ flowers, and pick exactly what they want for their custom order piece.” He then told me some of what is involved in creating the individual silk flowers from which an arrangement is made, and the process is indeed labor intensive. The blooms are hand cut, and then, ( in the case of the dogwoods,) embossed. “No one beats our prices, either,” he told me.
They also check to make sure that the colors don’t run, and while all arrangements will eventually fade, due to being continually out in the sun, their colors last longer than others because of the quality of the silk blooms.
Memorial season is just about to get started, and it is one of J and G’s busiest times of the year. They will sell between 4 and 5 thousand arrangements before the end of May. If you are wanting to grace the grave of your loved one with a beautiful silk floral gathering that is made with care, be sure to come to J and G Variety and let them create the perfect one, just for you. You’ll be glad you did.
J and G Variety
14535 Hwy 72, Athens AL, 35611
Hours: Mon-Sat 9-5
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner