119 North Court Street
Early fire insurance maps show that a livery was located at the corner of Court and Mobile streets in the 1880’s. In 1894, B.A. Rogers and his sons opened the Surprise Store at this location. The store was a huge success in Florence because of a unique strategy employed by its owners. The Rogers’ put price tags on all items in the store so there would be no confusion about the price of an item, and all customers knew that everyone was paying the same amount for the same item. After B.A. Rogers, Sr. passed away in 1902, his sons continued to operate the company until a fire destroyed the building in 1910.
The Rogers brothers rebuilt the store in 1910 and soon by 1917 they changed the name to Rogers Department store. The 27,000 square foot building remained into the 1940’s, when a modernization effort by the owners brought a new design to the original building. T.M. Rogers passed away in 1943 while his sons T.M. Jr. and Mims were serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. The operation of the store was passed to Mrs. T.M. Rogers and the Board of Directors, who contributed to war effort by promoting the sale of war bonds, asking for contributions, and encouraging women to become nurses and hospital technicians. During this tumultuous period, the store began an expansion project as a way to project the store’s confidence in the post-war period. T.M. Rogers, Jr. became president of the company in 1945 and his brother Mims became the store attorney.
A 1946 fire in the building next to Rogers delayed renovations but the store managed to stay in operation during the entire remodeling process. When the new store opened on September 3rd 1948, it boasted air conditioning, heating, and a pneumatic tube system for quick money transactions. The renovations were completed by the architecture firm of Hulsey and Hall from Memphis, TN. The exterior façade is smooth limestone with carved limestone relief accents. Polished pink granite frames the foundation of the building, and is especially visible on the Mobile Street façade. The store closed in 2001 and now houses several different businesses.
The building is in the Art Deco style. This style utilized hard-edged, shallow relief designs and the aim of the style was to create a monolithic appearance with applied decorative motifs. On the Rogers Building, the vertical pattern of recessed and projecting limestone panels accomplishes this aim. Applied motifs adorn the windows on the Mobile Street façade and above the corner display window.
On coming to Florence to shop: "It was uncomfortable. You know—and I think because we were taught certain things to expect when we came, we knew what to expect and not to expect. And there was a side of like—when we would come up on the bus, or someone would bring us up, and then we would wait for the bus to go or for them to come back to pick us up. And then there was a little area off of Mobile Street that everybody would congregate, there was a little cafeteria down there that all the black people would congregate until it (was) time to get picked up. And you know, we just knew our place. When you went to buy something you waited if there were others waiting in line, you stepped back. And then they would wait on you whenever all the other customers got take care of. And you knew that."