Dukes’ Clothing Store leaves lasting legacy in Downtown Opelika
By Norma Kirkpatrick
Born in Opelika in 1933, everyone knew him as “Buck”. His actual name is Dyonius Dukes, Jr.; after his father. When asked how such an unusual name came into their family, Buck said his father’s siblings were studying Greek mythology near time for the arrival of their brother. Sharing it with their mother, she liked the name, and the choice was made.
Dyonius Dukes, Sr., established Dukes Clothing Store on Railroad Avenue in Opelika in 1946; he sold clothing for all members of a family, except infants. The store was located in the area where the City Shops are now. At that time there was also a small police station located in front of what is presently The Irish Bred Pub. Buck recalls that people would drive to town and park at an angle in front of the stores, just to watch people on the sidewalks. He called it “people watching.”
Steam engines passed by on the railroad tracks in front of the store, pulling their loads and often blocking traffic. There were many more trains then than now. Buck said his father was a great train buff, and recalls that as a child he would load their family up into the car to drive down to the tracks to watch the trains go by. His father knew everything about the design of the engines and could quote the schedules and routes from memory.
By the time Buck was thirteen, he began working in the family business. His job was to clean the store, straighten the merchandise, and keep the two large plate glass windows clean. After a few years, serving as a salesman was added to those tasks. The entrance to the store was positioned between the two windows where men’s attire was displayed on one side; with women and girl’s clothing on the other. Men’s suits, hats and dress shoes were in demand; along with dresses and hats for women, dresses for girls; shirts, jeans and khakis for boys. Dukes Clothing Store also carried bed linens, spreads, and blankets. The store accepted cash or credit, and was one of several clothing stores in town.
As a young man, Buck met his future wife, Janice Hurd, who was from Paragould, Arkansas. She was visiting her sister, the wife of the preacher at the church the Dukes family attended. After meeting, they both decided to attend the same college in Tennessee, and, while students there, they eloped. Buck’s education was interrupted to serve in the Army as an MP in La Rochelle, France. Afterwards, the couple returned home to Opelika where Buck continued his education and received a business degree from Auburn University in 1957.
Buck then went back to work with his father full-time. Their store was one of the first stores in Opelika to be equipped with air-conditioning. In the late seventies, Buck bought the business from his father. He later changed locations to South 8th Street; moving into the building where Jimmy’s Restaurant is now located.
During his years as owner of Dukes Clothing Store, Buck never opened on Sunday. It was also during the time when most shops closed on Wednesday afternoon; which he did until Midway Shopping Center was built. Because the businesses at the shopping center were open on Wednesday afternoons, he and other Opelika store owners followed their lead in order to compete for customers.
In 1989, Buck closed the business that had served Opelika so well for over forty years. Many changes had taken place in the family clothing line, and in the city of Opelika, since the time he was a thirteen year-old boy working for his father. He retired with the wife of his youth to Lake Martin, where they built a home and resided together until her death. Buck then returned to Opelika where he has a lifetime of good friends and memories. He still notices what people are wearing after all those years of dressing the public. And you will never catch him with his shirt tail hanging out.