“We’re third-generation now. There are many, many lessons that my grandfather instilled in his children that still stand today.”
–Boo Jefferson, co-owner of Kannon’s Clothing
by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Christer Berg
Don’t let its owners’ Southern drawl fool you: Kannon’s Clothing is a tale of the immigrant American Dream. The store – founded in Wendell, with two separate men’s and women’s outposts in Cameron Village – was founded 100 years ago by Isaac George Kannon, a goat and sheep herder from Hammana, Lebanon. After watching a man order ham-and-eggs and pay in cash while recounting the progress and opportunity he’d seen on a recent trip to America, Kannon set out to go for himself.
After a three-month barge trip, Kannon arrived at Ellis Island in October 1905, and immediately made his way to Raleigh, where his brother-in-law happened to live. Using a hand-drawn map of the area from his brother-in-law as a guide, he walked around the area peddling linens and other luxury sundries he’d pick up at the State Farmers Market and carry in a backpack. “He befriended people and would either sleep in their home or sleep in their barn for the night,” Jefferson says. Within a few years, he’d saved enough to buy a horse-and-buggy for his one-man luxury goods shop. By 1916, he decided that home was North Carolina and not Lebanon, and a friend helped him secure a store space in downtown Wendell.
Those same friendships Kannon made while walking and selling goods became customers of his fine clothing store, Kannon’s Clothing. Soon, his wife Zahayia Kannon immigrated to help run the store and build a family. Growing up, “our life was centered around the store. We all lived together and we all worked together.”
Treating customers like family came – and comes – naturally to the close-knit Kannon clan. “We treat our customers as if they’re coming into our home,” Jefferson says, because they’re not far from it. Today, Jefferson and her sister Joe Ann Wright buy for the newly opened women’s store in Cameron Village; brother George Knuckley and sister Mary Kathryn Phillips manage the men’s store in Cameron Village. Jefferson’s parents both worked at Kannon’s. “It’s part of our DNA and that’s who we are.”
Despite necessary adaptations to keep a retail business going, Kannon’s has lasted a century because of the family dynamic. “We are one of the oldest family-owned and operated businesses in the Southeast,” Jefferson says, and their inventory reflects it: “We can clothe three generations in a family in specialty clothing. A grandmother, a mother, and a granddaughter can be dressed from head to toe: the outfit, the jewelry, the shoes, and the purse.”