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Big overalls to fill
Apparel store to close doors after five decades
Rameys Closes 3 es
Ralph Hause thumbs through some jeans on a recent afternoon at Ramey's Shoes & Apparel. The family-owned big and tall men's clothing store is closing after more than 50 years of business in Cumming. - photo by Emily Saunders

For more than half a century, Ramey's has been the staple of shoes and apparel for big and tall men, women and children in Forsyth County.

"We never thought we'd see the day we'd be closing," said Debbie Ramey, whose husband Keith owns the store. "The first day we put the closing sign up, me and him both cried the whole way home."

After 52 years in business, Ramey's Shoes & Apparel will shut its doors in October.

"It just got so slow," said Keith Ramey, who took over the store four years ago from his father, Doug. "We've got more going out than coming in and you can only go so far and at a certain point, you've got to go.

"It's sad. I don't really want to do it, but it's a have to."

Doug Ramey started the business in 1956, when men's overalls cost $2.50 and leather dress shoes sold for $3.99 a pair.

He drew the design plans for the store on the back of a shirt box lid, said Keith Ramey, and the family did most of the construction work themselves.

The original store was in downtown Cumming. It moved to its current location on Canton Road about 30 years ago, after the opening of a new courthouse thinned parking.

Still, the customers kept coming.

"I've been shopping here ever since it was on the square in town," Billy Williams said. "They just carry such good merchandise. I'm sorry they're going out of business. I hated to hear it."

Keith Ramey began working in his father's store when he was 13. Nine years later, he married Debbie, who joined the business part time. In 2000, she took over the bookkeeping on a full-time basis.

"We've worked together for 24 years. A lot of husbands and wives can't work together, but we've done it," she said. "It's like home. We're just at home here."

Even Roscoe, the family dog, tends the store, greeting customers, many of whom have become more like extended family.

"I've got customers that come in here and bring their kids in," Keith Ramey said. "But when they were little, I'd pick them up and hold them."

Customers would come from across Georgia, he said, some even from out of state. Business stayed strong until April 2007.

"That's when your gas prices went up," he said. "We relied on construction guys and builders and when they started getting laid off, and the housing slowed down, they weren't building and they weren't making money.

"If they don't make money, they're not going to spend money."

Business picked up after July 8, when Ramey's started its 60 percent off closeout sale. But just like the impact of the gas prices, Monday's stock market news led to another slowdown, Keith Ramey said.

"Others are having the same problems," he said. "The first week I put my sale sign up saying we're going out of business, I had eight people come in here who own small businesses, say they're fixing to do the same thing. They couldn't make it."

Robert Bursby said he has shopped at Ramey's because he can find anything he needs without having to drive far. He said he "hated to see it" coming to an end, but was not surprised.

"The way the economy is, it's not going to be the last small business to close, especially with everything going on [Monday] who knows what's going to happen," he said. "But I think it's a shame."

Though the employment future of Debbie and Keith Ramey is up in the air, the 5,200 square-foot store will be sold to neighboring A-Team Sports, which they said has been a good neighbor.

Keith Ramey said he will miss his customers more than anything, a feeling that appears to be mutual.

"I've actually had customers ... that when they start leaving, had tears in their eyes," he said. "We had them as customers, we had their mothers and dads as customers, we had their grandparents as customers.

"When you're talking about 52 years, that covers a lot of people. It's just sad."