I came to Birmingham in 1979 and met Sperry Snow in 1980. That makes us friends for more than three decades. I don’t have many friends like that. When I met him, Sperry was running a jewelry store for one of the big chain companies. He decided to venture out on his own and Sperry and his partner Eric McClain opened the doors to Barton-Clay Jewelers. They used their middle names for the store name and it always sounded classy and cool, and it always has been. Sperry died last night, shocking all of us who counted him as a true friend.
I know many of you reading this could share similar stories about what a good man Sperry Snow was. Anytime I went by Barton-Clay I would budget a little extra time because without fail, Sperry would motion me back to his office, tell me to have a seat. He’d usually tell me about his grandchildren or about his latest adventure in living life to its fullest. Sperry enjoyed his work, enjoyed the personal contact with customers. He knew how to make you feel special. Almost always, as I’d leave the store Sperry would yell, loud enough for everyone to hear; “I’ll tell Amy you were in.” Just what you need from the guy you buy jewelry for your wife from…letting her know that you were in. It of course raises expectations and puts some pressure on for the next birthday or anniversary. Sperry loved doing that to everyone.
A while back, my son Jack wanted to buy a special present for a girlfriend. He’d saved up some money and asked me to take him to Barton-Clay. A nice lady helped us and showed Jack several nice things. He could afford one of the pieces, but really wanted to get a prettier item. Jack wasn’t the first customer to come in with less money than he needed. While we looked some more Sperry came in from lunch and immediately came over to the counter. We told him what we were doing and Jack pointed out the item he wanted and told Sperry how much money he had. Sperry did something I’ll never forget. He picked up a calculator from the counter, picked up the item and looked at the tiny white ticket attached to it. Then, he pushed a bunch of buttons on the calculator. I could see his fingers work, Jack could not. It was all for show. He hit the plus button a couple of times, maybe a couple of numbers, and I swear he hit the square root button. He looked over his glasses at Jack and said; “I think we can sell that too you for this price. That price, plus tax was exactly how much Jack had to spend.
If you’re nice to me, I appreciate it. If you’re nice to one of my boys, you touch my heart. I doubt I’m the only one with a story like that.
Sperry knew I could slide Jack a few extra dollars so he could get what he wanted, but he understood, in his wisdom, that this was Jack’s deal, that he needed to do this on his own, with what he had. He won Jack as a customer forever. He had won me over years ago.
You could hardly go to a local fund raiser for a charity without seeing Sperry. He would bid on things he didn’t even want, so others would bid. He took home a lot of stuff and gave it away. He was successful and generous, not always commonly shared traits. Sperry served on one of the early boards of Camp Smile-A-Mile and loved the camp and the campers all of these years.
I’ll miss my friend, all of us will. I’ll still be a customer, but it won’t be as much fun without his smile, his laugh and his kindness. Please keep his daughter Carrie, her husband and two baby grandchildren in your thoughts and prayers.
See you weeknights at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00.
1732 Valley View Dr.
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