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Mary Jo's Cloth Store To Close After 68 Years In Business

David Boraks
Customers browse the selection at Mary Jo's Cloth Shop in Gastonia. The historic business has announced plans to close by the end of the month.

After nearly seven decades in business, Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia will permanently close by the end of August, according to a post on the business's Facebook page.

The announcement comes more than two years after the death of the store's founder, Mary Jo Cloninger, and has prompted an outpouring of remembrances from the store's current and former customers.

The world-famous fabric store once called the "fabric mecca of the South" was established in 1951 when Mary Jo, then 19 years old, received a $500 loan and a few scraps of fabric and began selling from the back of a barber shop.

Over the decades, the store amassed a devoted customer base, which included clients from around the world. As the business expanded, Mary Jo's husband, Polie Cloninger, joined her in overseeing operational aspects of the store, which changed locations four times before settling into its current location on Cox Road.

Its popularity helped the business survive a devasting fire in December 1981 that burned the store to the ground, after which Mary Jo pledged to rebuild.

"It's the best cloth store in the United States. It has the best clerks and the best customers. You just don't let something like that die," she told The Charlotte Observer the day after the fire.

The business bounced back as customers continued flocking to the fabric store, purchasing cloth for curtains, upholstery, school clothes, custom suits, and wedding dresses. Among the store's loyal customers were NBA and NFL players, including Charlotte Hornets player Muggsy Bogues, who handed out autographs to customers,reported The Gaston Gazette.

In March 2017, Cloninger died from complications with Alzheimer's at age 85. Since then, the business has been run by her son, Thomas Cloninger, who says the time has come for him to retire.

He tells The Gaston Gazette that his mother's death proved a tough obstacle to overcome, and the business struggled as fabric retail gave way to the internet.

The business says it will sell its remaining inventory at 75% off in a "retirement sale" beginning Sunday, Aug. 18. The store hopes to sell all of its remaining items and fixtures before closing its doors by Aug. 31.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal