Sobel’s Store, Inc. Collection, 1928 – 2004


 Title: Sobel’s Store, Inc. Collection, 1928 – 2004

Collection Number: Kingsport Community Manuscript Collection (KCMC) 334

Physical Description: 97 boxes, plus one cabinet of items permanently on display

Creator: Sobel’s Store

Repository: Archives of the City of Kingsport


Provenance: The Sobel’s Store, Inc. Collection was donated to the Archives of the City of Kingsport in numerous accessions by Norman and Hanne Sobel. The initial and largest accession was donated on December 15, 1999. The remainder of the collection was donated by Norman Sobel between January 2004 and April 2007.

Access: This collection is open for research. The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply

Restrictions: Tax Record in this collection are accessible only by permission from the donor, Norman Sobel. There are no restrictions on use of the remainder of this collection for research purposes.

Processed by: This collection was originally processed in 2000 by Penny Sonnenburg, archives intern, and opened for research in 2000. Kathryn W. Hayes reprocessed the collection and developed the finding aid in December 2009.

Language of material: English


This collection should be cited as: Sobel’s Store, Inc. Collection, 1928-2004. KC Manuscript Collection 334, Archives of the City of Kingsport, Tennessee.


Sobel’s began operations under the name “The Economy Store” in 1928, when Morris Sobel purchased the store at 130 Broad Street in Kingsport from its Knoxville owner. Morris and his brother Harry R. Sobel, who helped to operate the store, moved to Kingsport after emigrating from Poland to the United States and working in the clothing business in New York and Lynchburg, Virginia. Though it initially was a women’s clothing store, the Economy Store quickly became a men’s store by 1929. Sobel renamed his store “Sobel’s” in the early 1930’s and incorporated under the Norman-Phillips corporation in 1935. Sobel’s moved to 248 Broad Street for a time, and then moved to its final location at 200 Center Street in 1948. Morris’ son Norman Sobel helped out at the store as a child, and worked as a salesman from 1953. Norman and his wife Hanne bought Sobel’s from Morris in 1984 and managed the store as owner-operators. Sobel decided in 1999 to close the store, and after announcing in November o that year that they were going out of business, Sobel’s closed its doors for good in January 2000.

Sobel’s was known throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia as a fine men’s clothier. The store employed a master tailor, Doug Rowland, and provided custom shirt and suit services for its customers, who included author Dr. Benjamin Spock and the Maltese ambassador to the United States. Sobel’s was a pioneer business in several respects. Sobel’s started offering credit accounts to its customers in 1935, and was the first store in Kingsport to do so. The store managed its own customer accounts until 1989, when Sobel began using the services of Shoppers Charge Accounts.  Sobel’s was also the first store in Kingsport to have a commercial Web site, launched in 1995 and managed by ZFX in Kingsport.. Norman Sobel was very active in the local community. He served as president of the Downtown Kingsport Association in 1972 and was on the board of directors at First Tennessee National Bank for over twenty years during the 1970s-1980s. Sobel was instrumental in securing Kingsport a postmark He also took an interest in local and regional sports, and befriended Bobby Dodd, Bobby Cifers, and Leo “Muscle” Shoals.


The Sobel’s Store, Inc. collection contains records and artifacts that document Sobel’s operations as a clothing store from 1928-2000, as well as some records of Norman Sobel’s involvement with the Kingsport community from 1987 until 2004. Store functions covered in this collection are accounting, custom orders and alterations, advertising, ordering, purchasing, sales, and Web site management. Other functions covered include downtown revitalization efforts, customer and community relations, and holiday activities. The bulk of the collection consists of financial and accounting records, such as ledgers, daybooks, journals, invoices, and payroll records, but a substantial portion of the collection consists of news clippings and photographs documenting Sobel’s storefront, displays, customers, and advertising. Media formats included in this collection are bound ledgers, loose leaf documents, posters, news clippings, photographic prints, negatives, slides, fabric swatches, film, audio tape, video tape, oversize prints and blueprints, and three-dimensional artifacts.


Personal Names

Bobby Cifers

Bobby Dodd

Carl Downa

Doug Rowland

George Plimpton

James Quillen

Leo “Muscle” Shoals

Morris Sobel

Norman Sobel

Spock, Benjamin, 1903-1998

Corporate Names

Sobel’s Store, Inc.

The Economy Store


Clothing and dress–United States.

Kingsport (Tenn.)

Kingsport (Tenn.)–Industries

Men’s clothing–United States–History–20th century.

Retail stores

Small business—Accounting

Small business–Tennessee—Management



This collection is arranged into eight (8) series, two of which are further divided into subseries

Series I: Scrapbooks and Miscellaneous, 1928-2000

Series II: Financial and Accounting Records, 1928-1999

Subseries IIA-General Journals, 1943-1979

Subseries IIB-General Ledgers, 1948-1998

Subseries IIC-Daily Journals and Reports, 1939-1998

Subseries IID-Paid Invoices, 190-1998

Subseries IIE-Payroll Account Records, 1982-1993

Subseries IIF-Tax and Inventory Records, 1953-2000

Subseries IIG-Accounts Payable Books, 1991-1998

Subseries IIH-Miscellaneous Financial Documents, 1933-1998

Series III – Sales Records, 1946-1999

Series IV-Customer Records, 1935-99

Subseries IV-A: Customer Accounts and Information, 1935-1999

Subseries IV-B: Custom Order and Alteration Records, 1966-1999

Series V: Advertising Records, 1948-2000 (Bulk 1960-1978)

Series VI: Vendor Catalogs, Files, and Slides, 1960-2000, undated (bulk 1990s)

Series VII: Subject Files, 1959-2004

Series VIII: Artifacts, 1980-1998, undated


Series 1: Scrapbooks & Miscellaneous, 1928-2000, Boxes 1 to 7.

This series contains scrapbooks of photographs, clippings, founding documents, and correspondence kept by Sobel’s store during its operations. Scrapbooks contain prints of people, displays, and events of Sobel’s throughout its history, clippings and documents that document events held at the store, including the Going Out of Business Sale. Items of special interest in this series are a 1929 statement from the Economy Store, articles of incorporation for Norman-Phillips, inc. in 1935, photographs and letters from Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1994, and a scrapbook of the short-lived minor league baseball team Columbia Mules, which includes artifacts signed by author George Plimpton. This series also contains hundreds of Christmas cards sent to Sobel’s by vendors and customers and other items documenting the memory of the store.  The series is arranged by document type. Scrapbooks, which were originally bound volumes, are arranged by scrapbook number, which was assigned by the archivist and determined by subject, or by dates covered when no subject was discernible.

Series II: Financial and Accounting Records, 1928 – 1999, Boxes 8 to 55.

This series contains financial records created by Sobel’s in the bookkeeping process. Included are ledgers, journals, invoices, payroll records, and other banking and bookkeeping documents. Particularly interesting in this series is the evidence of changing technology in document creation that took place throughout Sobel’s existence. Many document types began as bound, handwritten volumes, and as automated and eventually digital technology became standard, the documents appear on typewritten, mimeographed, photocopied, paper, or is printed on daisy wheel or inkjet printers and created using Lotus 123 and MS Excel spreadsheet software. This series is further divided into 8 subseries, according to function.                                                                                                                                                     

Subseries II-A: General Journals, 1943 – 1979, Boxes 8-10

This subseries contains records of Sobel’s financial transactions by date in a double-entry journal. Entries recorded include sales, accounts receivable, utility costs, purchases, and sales tax. Also included in this subseries is one general journal dedicated to purchasing. The subseries is arranged chronologically. There are fragile items in this collection, which are noted in the box list, that require careful handling.

 Subseries II-B: General Ledgers, 1948 – 1998, Boxes 11-24

This subseries contains the primary double-entry accounting documents of Sobel’s. The ledgers are organized by separate accounts and record all financial transactions, debits and credits and for each month. Sobel’s created these documents by compiling loose leaf documents (either hand-printed or computer-generated) into books for each fiscal year, with later months filed in front of earlier months; therefore, the subseries is arranged in reverse chronological order. Many ledgers are maintained in bound volumes.

 Subseries II-C: Daily Journals and Reports, 1939 – 1998, Boxes 25-39, Display case

This subseries contains records of daily sales and expenditures from Sobel’s operations. Earlier journals are in bound volumes, while later journals were produced in spreadsheet format and include computer-generated reports. Many of the daily journals also include weather data, either recorded by Sobel’s bookkeeper or obtained from NOAA databases. The subseries is arranged chronologically by year.

 Subseries II-D: Invoices, 1990 – 1998, Boxes 39-45

This subseries contains records of invoices paid to vendors of merchandise, utilities, and other services. Included is either the original invoice issued, or a carbon copy, and a check stub or other document indicated payment of the invoice. Also included are invoice summaries which outline the invoices paid in spreadsheet format. Sobel’s appears to have filed by month and year for most invoices, but by vendor for a number of firms. The subseries is arranged chronologically, with relevant invoices arranged by vendor to reflect this original order.

 Subseries II-E: Payroll Account Records, 1982- 1993, Boxes 45 – 46

 This subseries contains bank statements, check stubs, and hours-worked summaries pertaining to payroll functions at Sobel’s. These records are arranged chronologically by month and year.

 Subseries II-F: Tax and Inventory Records, 1953-2000, Boxes 46 – 48

This subseries contains income statements, IRS tax forms, and other tax documents prepared for Sobel’s by Dent K. Burke & Associates, as well as store inventories created by Sobel’s employees. Inventories are only available for certain years. This subseries is arranged chronologically by year. Since the inventories were apparently used in preparing the tax documents, they are arranged with the corresponding year’s tax records where inventories exist. Per donor request, the tax records may only be viewed by researchers with express permission of the donor.

 Subseries II-G: Accounts Payable Books, 1991-1998, Boxes 49 – 54

This subseries contains records of Sobel’s accounts payable activities. The documents are maintained in bound volumes compiled annually, and outline for each month the amounts due according to account type. The series is arranged chronologically by year.

 Subseries II-H: Miscellaneous Financial Records, 1933-1998, Box 55

This subseries contains financial, accounting, and banking documents that do not fit into any of the above series. Included are bank deposit books, cancelled checks from Sobel’s early years, stock portfolio documents, and correspondence. The subseries is arranged by document type.

SERIES III: SALES RECORDS, 1946-1999, Boxes 56-57

This series contains documents tracking the sales performance of Sobel’s store from 1946-1998. Included are 19 volumes of “Beat Yesterday” sales record books in which Sobel’s logged comparative sales numbers from one year to the next. Also included are charts, graphs, reports, and surveys created by Sobel’s and industry-wide comparative sales reports created by the Men’s Retailers of America. Materials are arranged by content matter, and then chronologically.                                                                                                                        

SERIES IV: CUSTOMER RECORDS, 1935-1999, Boxes 57-67

This series contains records of the customers who purchased items at Sobel’s, and includes store credit account books, spreadsheets, correspondence, and alterations information. As the first store in Kingsport to offer a store credit system to customers, Sobel’s has a remarkable breadth of customer information, including names, places of employment, measurements from the alterations department, and purchases made. This series is further divided into two subseries by function.

Subseries IV-A Customer Accounts and Information, 1935-1999

This subseries includes 8 early leather-bound volumes and several typed customer account lists. The subseries also includes information supplied to Shoppers Charge Accounts, which was the company eventually hired by Sobel’s to manage store credit accounts.

 Subseries IV-B: Custom Orders and Alterations, 1966-1999

This subseries contains all other customer-related records These include Men’s measurements used by Sobel’s tailor, Doug Rowland, additional customer address books, and assorted correspondence to and from customers and Sobel’s.

SERIES V: ADVERTISING RECORDS, 1948-2000, undated (bulk 1960-1970’s), boxes 67-75

This series contains records of Sobel’s advertising efforts, both those created by Sobel’s and by manufacturers for Sobel’s to adapt for their use. Included in the series are news clippings of Sobel’s advertisements in the Kingsport Times-News from 1948-2000 as well as clippings of clothing store ads from other newspapers such as the New York Times and Atlanta Journal. Among the clippings are several examples of the popular Sobel’s Santa ads and the final “Going Out of Business” sale ad from January of 2000. The series also contains radio and television ad transcripts from ads aired on WQUT, WCYB, and WKPT, and several formats of television film, videotape, and audiotape containing both Sobel’s advertisements and ad service cuts from manufacturers. Other documents in this series are correspondence regarding advertising between vendors and Sobel’s, gift certificate information and cards, advertising and mat service kits, and the files of Carl Downa, who handled Sobel’s advertising during the 1960s and 1970s.

SERIES VI: VENDOR CATALOGS, Files, and Slides, 1960 – 2000, undated (bulk  1990s), Boxes 76-81

This series contains material sent to Sobel’s by apparel manufacturers and includes seasonal merchandise catalogs, fabric swatch booklets, manufacturer logo posters, and slides. These are distinct from advertising records because these materials were intended with Sobel’s as the client, not Sobel’s shoppers. Sobel’s used these catalogs and promotional materials to choose their stock and to refer to for custom orders. The series is arranged alphabetically by vendor name or by date when no original order was detected. Almost all of the content filed under vendor name dates from 1989-1999. This series gives a good idea of the merchandise sold at Sobel’s, as well as evidence of the popular fabrics and styles of the last half of the twentieth century.

SERIES VII: SUBJECT FILES, 1959 – 2004, undated, Boxes 82 – 85

This series contains documents, correspondence, photographs, slides, and blueprints that document various activities of Sobel’s store and Norman Sobel’s involvement with the community. Subjects covered include the Downtown Kingsport Association, the Netherlands Inn Homecoming Cherokee Nation event, local political and commercial issues, facade renovations, and Sobel’s advocating for postmark and flag stamps. This series also includes the records pertaining to Sobel’s Web site, which was launched to the public in 1995 and offer insight into the early development of the World Wide Web, both in content and format. Correspondence includes letters to and from Sobel’s customers, Representative Jimmy Quillen, and emails to Sobel’s from customers and various internet marketing firms.

SERIES VIII: ARTIFACTS, 1980 – 1998, undated, Boxes 86 -97, Display Case

This series contains artifacts that supplement documentation of Sobel’s history. The objects in the series vary widely in nature and function, and include office artifacts, alteration materials, fabric swatches, clothing labels, measuring tools, status, sports memorabilia, articles of clothing, and award plaques. Items of particular interest in this series include a dress shirt autographed by Dr. Benjamin Spock, a tuxedo shirt made for Ambassador Lowell of Malta, a baseball autographed Leo “Muscle” Shoals, a football signed by Bobby Dodd and Bobby Cifers, a letter from President Jimmy Carter and a large Sobel’s Santa doll that was a part of Sobel’s Christmas decorations for many years. The artifacts are located in boxes in the collection and on permanent display in a glass cabinet that is also part of the collection.