Earl Hammer, who has been a fixture associated with the iconic Hammer’s Department Store in Winchester, passed away Monday at NHC HealthCare in Tullahoma.
He was 91.
Mr. Hammer, who was born in Fountain City, Tennessee, on Jan. 26, 1929, moved to Winchester in 1958 to manage Hammer’s on the Downtown Square.
He owned the store for 60 years and played an instrumental role in expanding it from a corner building to occupying one quarter of the Square.
His contribution to Winchester and Franklin County was evident during his 90th birthday celebration with Jan. 25, 2019, the Friday just before his birthday, being declared Earl Hammer Day.
About 80 showed up at the store to give Mr. Hammer their best wishes and share memories that had developed during the previous 60 years.
Winchester Mayor Terry Harrell read a proclamation officially declaring the day in honor of Mr. Hammer.
Eddie Clark, former county commissioner and current business owner, said Mr. Hammer had been a personal inspiration to him as he grew up and went into business for himself. He added that Mr. Hammer had set an example of how to run a business, and it was only fitting to pay tribute to him as he turned 90.
“That’s a milestone in itself,” Clark said, referring to reaching a 90th birthday.
Friends, employees and former employees shined a light on how Mr. Hammer had affected their lives.
Employees explained that the store and Mr. Hammer had become like a family for which they are grateful to have had the opportunity to work for.
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, said it would be difficult to categorize the influence Mr. Hammer had on the community.
“I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said, adding that he has been such an influence and set such strong examples for others to follow.
Rudder said her children especially loved the store’s upstairs toy area, and visiting the establishment was routine.
Bryan Jones, owner of Bells & Beaus on the Square, said he rented his store space from Hammer’s, and Mr. Hammer had been very supportive of his business venture. He added that it only seemed fitting to show up and wish Mr. Hammer a happy 90th birthday.
Mr. Hammer’s son, Jonathan, said the day was very meaningful.
“It’s special for him because he is special,” he said, referring to his father.
His father also said the day was meaningful.
“It’s amazing to see these people come out and wish me a happy birthday,” Mr. Hammer had said. “It’s really an honor, and I appreciate it.”
Harrell referred to why he thought Mr. Hammer had reached the 90-year milestone with many additional birthdays expected.
He said Mr. Hammer was an active runner and could be seen regularly running throughout Winchester.
Harrell referred to a song by country and western singer Barbara Mandrell called “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”
“Mr. Hammer was running when running wasn’t cool,” he said, adding that Mr. Hammer’s commitment to his exercise regime paid dividends in longevity and good health.
Harrell said Hammer’s Department Store, which closed later in 2019, was one of only three remaining businesses in Winchester with their roots extending back to the 1950s.
Hammer’s had temporarily moved a few years ago to 1415 Dinah Shore Blvd. in Winchester into larger quarters. However, the old location and its historic place on the Square eventually drew the business back to its origin point.
“We should never have moved,” Mr. Hammer had said, which was followed by several saying how glad they were to have the business back on the Square where it has always had such a strong presence.
Eva Austin, owner of Therapy Works, 1397 S. College St., Winchester, had said that Mr. Hammer was a strong personal inspiration when she went into business.
“I learned a lot about business from him,” she had said, adding that how Mr. Hammer managed his store and handled related operations is the key reason she ventured into a business career.
Austin had said the Hammer family has done something unique by having offspring operate stores in various communities in Tennessee and Alabama under the family name.
She added that the stores have made a strong impact in their respective communities, and Earl’s presence in Winchester and Franklin County had been a strong benefit to the area.
“What he’s done for the community is tremendous,” Austin had said, adding that it was only fitting to go the extra distance to honor him on such a landmark birthday.
Earl’s father, A.B. Hammer Sr., bought the store in 1955, and Earl became manager in 1958.
Hammer’s stores got their start in Guntersville, Alabama, in 1941.
A.B. Hammer Sr., whose background in retail stretched back to old line stores like Dobson’s and Watson’s in Knoxville, rented an empty building in Guntersville and put in salvage stock to sell out.
With the help of his son, Bernard Jr., the store grew, and before long his other children and their spouses started other locations in North Alabama and Tennessee.
In addition to Earl, store locations have been owned and operated by A.B. Hammer Jr., Bob Hammer Sr., Helen Hammer Kern, Emily Hammer Hall and Fred Hammer.
Over the years, the children and grandchildren of the original owners have entered the business, introducing new locations but always keeping true to the original idea that Hammers’ is a bargain hunter’s paradise.
Mr. Hammer is survived by his children, Karol Stephens of Fayetteville, Georgia, Kimberly (Brad) Clayton of Decatur, Alabama, Jonathan Hammer of Winchester, Jennifer (Larry) Love of Sevierville, and Josh (Jonanne) Hammer of Estill Springs; 16 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; siblings, Helen Kern of Scottsboro, Alabama, Emily Hall of Bridgeport, Alabama, Fred (Vera) Hammer of Albertville, Alabama, and Bobby (Wanda) Hammer of Albertville, Alabama; half-siblings, Arthur Hammer of Phoenix, Arizona, Frank Hammer of Hawthorne, Nevada, Alvin Hammer of Knoxville, Marshall Hammer of Knoxville, John Hammer of Knoxville, Wiley Hammer of Knoxville, Sarah Asbury of Wytheville, Virginia, and Grace Hammer of Flora, Indiana; and sister-in-law, Helen Hammer of Clinton.
Arrangements were incomplete by Tuesday’s press deadline and will be announced by Moore-Cortner Funeral Home as soon as they become available.