By Gerhard Schneibel
Morris Bros. Luggage is shutting its final store after 78 years as a family business in metro Atlanta.
The closing comes because the owners want to enjoy retirement, but it also represents the shift from small businesses thriving in street-front shops with American goods to chains offering imported items in shopping malls.
It was 1930 when Jake Morris opened his first store at 80 Forsyth St. in downtown Atlanta with an investment of $300. He started the business as a consignment store, but once he noticed luggage sold well, he specialized his inventory.
He married fellow native Atlantan Adell Rosenstein in 1935, and together they expanded the business to six retail stores by 1945. The business has had many locations over the years, including stores at Lenox Square and on Piedmont Avenue.
When Jack died in 1976, Adell carried on the business until 1999, when she left it to her daughter and son-in-law, Mildred and Marty Kwatinetz.
Mildred and Marty, now 72 and 69 years old, have conflicting feelings about retiring from the business that shaped their marriage and their lives. But they are indeed closing the last Morris Bros. Luggage store at 3170 Peachtree Road in Buckhead.
They married in 1961 after Marty moved to Atlanta from New York. Marty’s uncle was a salesman who did businesses with Mildred’s father.
“People are just shocked that we’re going out of business. People just come in to say goodbye. They don’t need anything; they just want to say goodbye,” Mildred said. “I don’t like the words ‘going out of business.’ Retirement sounds better. It makes you feel better.”
Marty said he’ll be glad to retire with enough health and mobility to do some traveling.
“It’s been a lot of work — a lot of hard work,” he said. “I mean, one time we had six stores, and it was a lot of work keeping them up. We spent a lot of time at nights and on Sundays moving around merchandise from store to store.”
Major changes the past 78 years have made it difficult for small businesses like Morris Bros. to survive.
“You have to move on. You have to, as they say, go with the flow,” Marty said. “I feel like all the product has gone overseas. That’s not good. I don’t like that. We used to refer to everybody we bought from as manufacturers, but there really aren’t any manufacturers [in the United States] anymore. They’re all importers.”
Operating out of a shopping mall derails the patterns businesspeople and their families used to live by, Mildred said. “Malls have taken over the business, but when you have a mall store, you have to stay seven days and seven nights. That’s your obligation.”
Marty said: “I think really everybody says they like to shop at small business, but the day of the small store is really gone.”
Over the years, Mildred added, “we’ve met a lot of nice people … really nice people. Sometimes people eat next door at the White House [restaurant], and they stop in to say hello.
“You don’t need us every day in the luggage business, but it’s nice to know that people care about us.”
She has plans to travel, relax and do volunteer work after they close the store. The Kwatinetzes have five grandchildren in Baltimore and two in Roswell, and they plan to spend time with them.
“The youngest one in Baltimore is going to be 2 this month and doesn’t know us very well, so we’re going to go meet her,” Mildred said.
Morris Bros. Luggage will be a part of those grandchildren’s history but not their lives.
“I have mixed feelings about the fact that it’s a family business and it’s not going to be in business anymore,” Marty said. “But still and all, it’s time for us to slow down.”