If Martha Cannady knows anything, it is that the only thing constant is change. She has gone through many iterations during her career. That work phase of her life will change with the arrival of Christmas 2020.
Martha has sold her business, Martha’s Gift Shop, and is retiring after serving generations in her store on North Broad Street in Metter.
Martha admits that the reason she has not retired earlier is that she was programmed to work.
Among her many jobs since entering the workforce before the age of 20 are working as a teller and cashier at Pineland Bank in the early days of that financial institution; working in her family’s restaurant the “L & M,” the “L” stands for her late husband Lynwood and the “M” is for Martha; serving as the activities director at Metter Nursing Home; and even teaching school.
“After I graduated from Georgia Teachers College, I was hired to teach at Hillview School in Tattnall County,” Martha laughs as she adds, “I was the girls basketball coach and we played on a dirt court!”
Her love of children and education resumed when she started a private kindergarten in her home. That school, called the Jack and Jill Kindergarten, introduced many of Martha’s now adult customers to the lady that they all love dearly.
In 1982, Martha Cannady opened a gift shop in downtown Metter. It was Father’s Day and folks were looking for that special gift for “dear old Dad.” From that first weekend until the Christmas season of 2020, Martha has helped people find the right thing for the loved ones in their lives at her store, Martha’s Gift Shop on North Broad Street in Metter.
“When we opened the store, the fixtures we installed came from Coston’s Dime Store,” says Martha. In talking about her career that spans over 70 years, Martha recalls a laundry list of successful businesspeople from Metter’s past.
To make her dream of owning a gift shop a reality, Martha visited neighbor Rex Hartley at Metter Banking Company to procure a business loan. She remembers that the bank allowed her to make her loan payments in one lump sum per year instead of monthly, making it possible for her to stock her store.
“I was so excited and overwhelmed on my first visit to the Gift Mart in Atlanta,” she giggles as she tells the story of going from vendor to vendor and wanting to buy a little bit of everything to bring back to Metter.
Things have changed in the way she fills her shelves.
“Now, representatives of the companies come by and bring ‘technology’ that allows me to select merchandise with just a swipe,” she says, adding, “I am not that good with technology!”
Martha’s daughter Rhonda Utz laughs, “Thirty-seven and a half years and Mama did it all by hand,” referencing her mother’s bookkeeping and business practices that have been done without the aid of a computer.
A highlight of Martha’s has been serving brides who are registering for their wedding gifts.
“I have enjoyed helping the brides get the china, silverware, and other accessories they would like to use in their newly married life,” Martha beams. She has seen uncounted brides, some of whose mothers were registered at Martha’s as young brides themselves.
Through the years, employees have come and gone at Martha’s.
“When I opened the store, Carrie Lyons and Jewel Mixon were clerks,” she recalls. Both ladies retired for health reasons. Many others have worked for Martha whose staff today is Norma Willis, Juanita Lott, Judy Morgan, Dolly Raposa, Sarah Kate Carter and Martha’s son, Randy Cannady.
Over the years, Martha has been involved in helping downtown Metter grow and change.
“Many years ago, I was the chair of the Metter Merchants with Tommie Tomlinson,” she says. Tomlinson was the owner of Trapnell-Tomlinson Hardware Store, now Ace Hardware. The Metter Merchants was an organization made up of the downtown business owners who worked together to promote doing business locally.
That group was responsible for the campaign “Try Metter First” and the ever-popular Pajamarama, a night on which businesses stayed open late and shoppers were greeted by clerks decked out in their finest pajamas.
Martha’s list of community activities reads like a directory of local organizations: Metter Kiwanis Club, the Candler County Historical Society, Metter Garden Club, the City Planning Commission, the Metter Business and Professional Women’s club, and co-chair of the Metter Housing Authority. Some of these groups no longer exist, but others still benefit from Martha’s leadership and wisdom.
A member of Metter First Baptist Church, Martha is a greeter and teaches the Naomi-Esther Sunday School Class.
She displays on her countertop an award from the Chamber of Commerce that recognizes her for 45 years of setting the standard as a female business leader.
A couple of things Martha is especially proud of being a part of in Metter is the Eggs and Issues breakfast she created and being a part of the group responsible for the beautification of Metter.
Eggs and Issues was a community-wide breakfast meeting at which area politicians gave updates on matters of importance.
“Our first Eggs and Issues was at the restaurant in the old Metter Motel and late Senator Joe Kennedy was a state representative at that time,” she explains. Kennedy and other politicians would revisit Metter for Eggs and Issues for many years, keeping them in touch with the needs of the people of Metter and Candler County.
The Beautification Committee was a perfect fit for Martha, as she has always been involved in decorating and gardening. That committee had her working with the next generation of Trapnell-Tomlinson/Ace Hardware, Pernal Franklin and good friend Becky Franklin as well as others in creating Metter’s now-distinctive look.
Promoting Metter has been a big part of Martha’s work life. “Metter is a little town with big ideas,” she asserts. She is a believer in supporting local businesses and says, “When we don’t support local businesses, we are defeating our purpose.”
Martha has spent her many years in downtown Metter on North Broad Street, moving three times. Her first location was the double-entry Masonic building that now houses The Flower Gallery. From there, she moved down the street to the old Pittman’s Pharmacy, now Metter Insurance. Finally, she was able to get into the storefront she wanted from the beginning.
“This building housed the Sears Catalog Store,” she explains. When Sears closed, she moved in, making changes to suit the needs of her gift shop. Martha’s son Randy got slat board in Atlanta and installed it. He also redesigned the store to include an office and storage room while leaving plenty of room for the display of merchandise.
A new owner,
a new name
With Martha’s retirement, her legacy will continue as the store’s new owner, Heather Conner Thigpen, will change the name of the business to Martha’s and More.
Heather says, “I can’t wait to start this new adventure.” She adds that Martha has provided her with invaluable guidance and support. “Having Miss Martha’s approval means everything to me,” she states.
As the new owner, Heather will continue to serve Metter’s shoppers with Martha’s special touches but has a lot of great ideas to make the shop her own.
Contemplating her retirement is bittersweet for Martha. She looks forward to spending time visiting her daughter Rhonda Utz in Maryland. Her son, Randy Cannady, lives with her, so the two will be spending even more time together. Martha’s oldest son, Ricky Cannady, was killed in an automobile accident many years ago.
She also will be able to spend more time with her grandchildren. Martha will also continue writing the Party Line column in the Metter Advertiser, a job she has had for 25 years.
Bemoaning some of the health issues that she currently addresses, Martha says she will continue to volunteer all over town and she will be on call to help the new owner. “I told Heather I would be here to help wrap gifts for Christmas,” she said.
Martha’s last day as owner of Martha’s Gift Shop was Saturday, Dec. 21.
Martha’s and More is located at 55 North Broad Street and offers free gift wrapping and local delivery. So even though change is inevitable, the more things change, the more they stay the same!