The Grasshopper: 40 Years In Athens, And Now On The Courthouse Square

5-16-2013 6-53-33 PMSince 1973, the Grasshopper has been a fixture in Athens, providing our city with some of the best children’s clothing and gifts available anywhere. It was started by Martha Smith, originally located on Hwy 72, and since the ‘80s was just off the Square on Washington Street. In 2004, Joel and Sharma Hamm were expecting their second child, a girl, and Joel came up with an “out-of-the-box” idea: “I am going to need to clothe my daughter anyway, so why not buy a store to do it?” On any level that is an unusual move, but to me the idea of the guy who is the “Like A Rock” Champion Chevrolet General Manager being the co-owner of the Grasshopper is all the more intriguing.

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Nevertheless, it has worked well, and now Joel can whip off the names of clothing, shoe and gift product lines just as easily as the names of Chevy, Jeep and Polaris products. The Hamm’s success has made it possible to move into the former location of Kids’ World on Marion Street, and the Grasshopper happily is really “hopping.” This has been the best year yet, and this past March in the new location on Marion was busier than the previous December on Washington Street. Joel and Sharma are more than optimistic regarding the future, even in this economy. They also find owning and running the Grasshopper to be fun, a word that is not always heard when it comes to being an entrepreneur.

One of the things Joel and Sharma enjoy bringing to the Athens community through the Grasshopper is the sense of stability and continuity. It is not at all rare to hear customers say, when they come into the store, “My Mom/Grandma used to bring me here when I was a little girl,” and they in turn are doing so with their daughter or granddaughter. A couple of times a week Joel goes to the Grasshopper for lunch, and “enjoys seeing people from church, his kids’ school, neighbors and friends.”

5-16-2013 6-50-25 PMKids in the original shop were always invited to play while the adults shopped, and that tradition continues on today. The shop is brightly colored and inviting, and the merchandise displayed well, both which serve as a fitting back drop for high quality clothing and gifts. Clothing ranges in size from newborn to size 10.

I always ask any Athens Now client why I should come to them, and with no shortage of children’s apparel stores in our area, I did so with Joel. He replied with his trademark candor, “We may not be the cheapest, but our quality is the highest.” They have hand smocked dresses starting at $36. They have “the best selection of shoes, bows, and baby gifts,” and they also carry beautiful dolls. Some of the shoe lines are Puddle Jumpers, Lamour, and Robeez, (an infant shoe that is designed to resist being kicked off and lost.) “Our value, selection and customer service are what bring people back, year after year,” they say.

5-16-2013 6-50-51 PMOther name brands include Paty, Hello Kitty, Douglas, Ty, LaJenns, Corky and Company, Flap Happy, and more. Grasshopper’s has a saying, and that is, “They’re only little once, and they’re worth it.”

One of the things the Grasshopper will do for its customers is allow them to take home several outfits, pick what they want to purchase when it’s convenient for them, and then bring the rest back. “Nothing is worse than trying to get a cranky child to try on clothing,” says Joel, (possibly from experience?!) The Grasshopper is just “local” enough that customers can be treated with the kind of service that is a throwback to an era when people’s word meant something, and customers could be trusted. I asked him how that has worked out, i.e., taking that kind of risk, and he continues to be glad to do it. Some of Grasshopper’s new projects include increasing clothing selections for boys as well as more shoe choices for both boys and girls.

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The Grasshopper also has a fashion jewelry product line, and carries picture frames, baby gifts as well as gifts for baby showers and other events. They love the location on the Square, enjoy being next to the Shoe Gallery, and in the vicinity of The Crowning Touch, the Center for Lifelong Learning and Kathleen’s Korner, as well as the other shops on the Square. “It’s great for business, and we like being near “neighbors,” they say.

Joel’s wife Sharma works on Fridays, and is in charge of ordering. She is also the one who goes to market, and together they make the Grasshopper a fun and quality place to get just what you are looking for when it comes to children’s clothes, shoes, gifts, and more. Joel says, “At the end of the day, good business is about good relationships, and we will keep on building both.”

The Grasshopper
107 South Marion Athens, AL 35611
Hours: Monday thru Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner