PAM MIZELL SMILES TO HERSELF when she hears businesses boast about having a decade of experience in the retail business. In the case of Paducah’s Tot ‘n’ Teen Shop, make that FIVE decades.
Pam’s mother, Maude McClanahan, first opened Tot ‘n’ Teen in 1960 near the current site of Davis Drugs. Two years later, the store moved to what was a brand new shopping center off Jackson Street. Maude, now deceased, retired in 1982, and Pam took over as manager of the business. Customers who came in as youngsters through the years now return to clothe their own children and grandchildren.
Times (and fashions) change, of course. When Pam began working as a teen for her mother, she primarily worked downtown at Driver’s Department Store, from which her mother leased the children’s department for 12 years, in addition to running Tot ‘n’ Teen. Long-time employee Reva Lacewell also began at Driver’s, and she remains with the business 28 years later. Driver’s went out of business years ago, and malls, consignment shops, big box stores, and garage sales entered the fashion scene.
Pam believes Tot ‘n’ Teen has been able to remain successful due largely to the loyalty of customers. “Our customer loyalty is wonderful,” says Pam. “For girls who have moved out of town, it’s part of ‘coming home’ to Paducah for them to come back and shop when they’re in town.
“I have people come in from Florida, Texas, all over—people who have moved away and realize there isn’t anything like this in other places, and we regularly draw from four states.” A lesson Pam learned under the tutelage of her mother was that she must have a large amount of inventory to keep customers coming back. “My mother always believed in inventory,” says Pam, who took the lesson to heart. She considers a good selection of merchandise essential, and the lesson pays off when she hears customers say, “I knew you would have it.”
In order to meet her goal of offering an excellent merchandise selection, Pam travels to market in Atlanta and to a smaller market in Nashville three times each year. And she credits her customers with providing direction for what she should buy at market. “Even though we’ve been in business 50 years, I’m still learning all the time. You learn from your customers. You have to be aware of changes, and you have to listen to the kids,” she says.
“That’s what I like best—the kids,” she adds. “I love going somewhere and seeing kids in outfits from here. The kids are what I like best about my job.”