The Augusta native grew up watching his father, Vernon Jackson, run the gentlemen’s apparel store Oxford Shop on Jones Street downtown in the 1950s. In 1963, his father and a partner started a men’s clothing business called Gentry Mens Shop in what was then the Richmond Hotel on Broad Street.
“They would do a new display window, and that night dad would get the whole family in the car,” said Jackson, who is now at the helm of Gentry. “We’d go down to the Oxford Shop and look at the windows after dark when they were lit up. I was like, ‘Man, that’s the coolest thing that could be.’ So it kind of got in my blood.”
Jackson recalled as a child happily making gift boxes and bows at the Oxford Shop during the Christmas season.
“I can still smell the wool tweeds, and the press, and the steamers and the leather,” he said.
After some time as a grocery bagger, Jackson approached his father about coming to work at the Gentry. The next day, Vernon Jackson agreed.
“He said, ‘Go ahead and come on down,’” Jackson said. “Probably my first job was vacuuming the floors, cleaning out ashtrays and cleaning glass.”
By 1973, Jackson’s father solely owned Gentry and had moved the store to Surrey Center, where it remains. Gentry, which will celebrate its 50th year in business Aug. 22, was one of the first stores in the Highland Avenue shopping center.
The Jacksons also had Gentry locations on Baker Avenue and at the Augusta Mall in the 1970s, but both stores have since closed.
“We’re on I don’t know how many generations of customers now,” Jackson said. “We’ve got some original customers from the ’50s and ’60s that still come in here. Their children, their grandchildren come by. They’re like extended family.”
One of Jackson’s repeat customers is also a family member: his uncle, state Sen. Bill Jackson.
“It’s personalized attention when you get in the door,”
the Georgia senator said.
Jackson ran Gentry with his father until his death in 1991 and now has help from his wife of 17 years, Becky. The two collectively have about 85 years of retail experience.
Becky Jackson said her husband goes the extra mile to continue his father’s legacy through the business.
A scrapbook shows old advertisements and pictures from the original store. The Surrey Center location has the same chandelier, counter, chairs, clothing cabinets and wall decor as the first store.
“We have the same cash register here even though it doesn’t work,” Becky Jackson said. “He does everything the way his father did.”
The store still holds the same seasonal sales in January and July as it has since opening. It also offers the same services, such as fittings and alterations.
The changing times have caused many of Jackson’s competitors in the small speciality niche to die out.
Becky Jackson, who is in the store nearly every day, said she believes his success lies within his unwavering way of doing business.
“I think the reason that Bruce and the Gentry is still around is because he is doing it the way it’s always been done,” she said. “He’s always been true to the business and true to the way his dad taught him.”