Custom Gifts and
Bell Hillside Shopping Center
Virgie Cook, Owner of Bell Hillside Shopping Center,
Believes In Hard Work and Speaking Her Mind
In 1956, Virginia “Virgie” Cook contemplated what would become of her and her new baby girl if something ever happened to her husband, W.R. “Cookie” Cook. So she told Cookie she wanted to look for a job and he just laughed. Virgie looked in the newspaper, went and applied for a job with Fedway Department store in downtown Amarillo and came home with a new job in their credit department by that afternoon. Within the first week, Virgie’s new boss, Bill Williams realized she had “the gift for gab” and offered her a 10¢ raise to go to the sales floor. Virgie could rely on Cookie for security so when it came to work she never worried about getting fired and always spoke her mind. With that outspoken confident Virgie was in management within the first 6 weeks. Virgie worked as the manager of decor on the 3rd floor of Fedway for 3 years. The boss fired everyone in the ready to wear women’s department. With the women’s department being vital to the success of the department store, they offered Virgie the job as manager of ready to wear. It wasn’t long before Virgie was a
buyer for the store and traveled 5 times a year to Dallas and twice a year to New York. After 10 years with Fedway, the department store could no longer compete with store such as Sears and Montgomery Ward and they closed their doors.
Virgie went on to work for a privately owned women’s clothing store called, Lady Pad. She was just supposed to work as a sales associate but when the 4 women involved in the business caused confusion with multiple initial buys for the store, the owner made Virgie their sole buyer for 4 years. With all of her experience in retail and as a buyer, Virgie dreamed of opening her own women’s clothing store.
Jim Cole, a Dallas Merchandiser, told Virgie she would need $20,000 to open her own store and the store would need to bring in $60,000 the first year with no salary for her to break even and $80,000 the first year for her to draw a salary. Virgie opened her first location of Fashion Corner of Amarillo in 1969 and brought in a whopping $240,000 her first year. Cookie worked as the Construction Supervisor with Page & Wirth Construction for more than 20 years. He helped build several of the schools in Amarillo, the municipal building and assisted in building Amarillo College. He helped build Virgie’s first Fashion Corner on Washington that was originally a meat market. Virgie opened Fashion Corner Stout for plus sized women down the street and bought a gas station that she turned into the headquarters and a warehouse at 47th and Washington to supply the next 5 stores she opened.
In 1969, Cookie was looking for a new location for Virgie’s Fashion Corner and came across a pile of dirt at Bell and Hillside. Cookie pulled a lease sign out of the mud that read 20 Acres for Sale. Bell was the furthest street going west and Hillside was just a 2 lane dirt road at the time. Virgie knew the men selling the land because she had sold clothing to their wives, so she was able to buy just the 5 acre corner. In 1978, they started construction on the free standing corner building and leased it to Toot N Totum over a bid from 7-11 because they were local. They were able to start the west wing with a lease from Bell Auto Parts and a pending lease with M&R Liquor. They had to build the complex in increments as they could afford it. They got the first 12,800 square feet built and leased. Cookie started added 5 20’x80’ spaces and adding as they could since money was tight. He had everything ready and was waiting on the roof and became ill. Within 7 weeks, Cookie died from is COPd caused from his longtime smoking.
After Cookie’s death, Virgie was unsure about continuing the complex alone. Virgie started receiving offers for the shopping center way under it’s value. She explained to the men wanting to buy her property, that she may be a woman but she wasn’t stupid. So she hired a young builder, Jody Henderson, who added the east wing of the shopping center, the free standing automotive building and the Domino’s building.
The fashion industry took a nose dive and Virgie had to close down her Fashion Corner stores. In 1997, she opened Custom Gifts as a gift shop and her office for the Bell Hillside Shopping Center. Today, at the age of 90, Virgie Cook stills works every day at Custom Gifts with her sister-in-law, Linda Cook. Custom Gifts carries authentic Indian jewelry, wall crosses, home decor, Heart of the Prairie candles out of Clinton, Ok., Talavera Pottery and even Avon. Go visit the ladies at Custom Gifts at 5901 S. Bell C9 or call 806-354-2789.
Virgie prides herself on hard work and speaking her mind. When speaking with the tenants of the shopping center, you can tell Virgie is well respected and some even say they would not still be in business if it weren’t for Virgie being so kind and helpful to them. Today the shopping center has over 20 local businesses who are all thriving such as Damron’s Pawn, M&R Liquor, Southpark Pharmacy, Domino’s Pizza and Toot N Totum. It’s amazing and wonderful to see one of our locals with such a long and rich history with our town still succeeding as a local business owner while lifting up other local business owners.
Custom Gifts, Jewelry & Decor
Virgie Cook: Owner
5901 S. Bell C9