By Joel Hall
Jonesboro's South Main Street is not the bustling commercial center it was in the early-mid-1900s, brimming with five-and-ten-cent stores and other retail shops.
But, among the banks and law offices that remain, "Simple Pleasures," is a downtown oasis of fudge, gourmet coffee, and nostalgia.
The unique gifts-and-collectibles store -- inside a building that has stood since the late-1800s -- offers visitors a chance to shop for rare items, not usually found in department stores.
Jo Lynne McEwen, an art major hailing from North Georgia College and State University, started selling folk art items in 1984, out of her mother's beauty shop in Lake City. In 1985, she opened her first store at 131 North Main Street in Jonesboro, and in 1996, opened her current store at 128 South Main Street.
"It [the first store] was called 'Trifles and Treasures,'" McEwen said. "I kept them both open until 2004, then I closed the other one. I moved everything here [to 128 South Main Street] because I had so much more space."
Simples Pleasures today is a hodgepodge of one-of-a-kind items, ranging from wedding, baby, novelty, classic-movie, and college-sports items to unique collectibles, such as Jim Shore's Heartwood Creek and Disney Traditions music boxes, Beanie Babies, and Willow Tree angles and figurines.
There are seasonal items, as well as year-round items, such as jewelry, picture frames, stationary, Southern cookbooks, books by local authors, and household decorations featuring popular and humorous sayings.
"My favorite [saying] is 'Just put your big girl panties on and deal with it,'" said McEwen, who also serves as a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. "It's fun when someone is in the store, and you can figure out what they are chuckling about."
A major attraction to Simple Pleasures is the fudge, she said. Every few weeks, she spends a few hours making 30 to 60 pounds of fudge of various flavors, in the back of her shop. Among the flavors are chocolate, peanut butter, rocky road, creamsicle, chocolate pecan, maple nut, chewy praline, peach, and butter pecan.
"I've done it for so many years, and it has been a good draw," McEwen said.
"Men will come into the store who wouldn't come before. The girlie things, men will get past that to get to the fudge."
In the back of the store, there is a small patio table with a coffee maker that brews a variety of flavored coffees by the cup. Nancy Jenkins, a Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department employee, and a regular customer, said the area serves as a respite for downtown workers.
"We've solved a lot of life's problems in the back of the store at that little round table back there," Jenkins said. "If we come here, and we are feeling down, she gives us some inspirational words that remind us who we are, and who we should focus on. This is more than a store, this is a ministry for Jo Lynne."
Many of the neighboring buildings on Main Street are vacant, McEwen said, as most of the businesses have either closed or moved away. While the economy is difficult day-to-day, she said she is inspired by her customers.
"We're really trying to float," she said. "Just wanting to be in business isn't enough." However, "I have great customers for the most part. That really makes my day. I try to find things that are fun and different.
"I have deeds dating back to the 1800s," McEwen added. "This building lends itself to nostalgia. If they [people] really like local stores, they should try to frequent those businesses as much as possible, so they don't become antiques of the past."