Written by Teresa Dennard.

We strive to make our clientele happy

Bill Steptoe knows in order for a person to stay in business in a small town for 70 years, customer service has to be a priority. Steptoe opens his store every day from 9-5 and strives to provide the kind of service his dad taught him years ago. In the 1930s, C.B. Steptoe moved from San Augustine to Carthage to work with the Willis Drilling Company. He met Frances Reed whose father, B.W. Reed, was a deputy sheriff under Corbett Akins and Glen Hunt. Once Frances and C.B. were married, he decided traveling with the oil field wasn’t for him, so he learned to do watch work. Mr. John Ray, who owned Rand Drugs on the north side of the downtown square, asked Steptoe to move his watch repair business into the front of his store.

After 15 years in that location, Steptoe moved to his residence on North Daniels Street where he converted his garage into a jewelry store. To add to the family trade, Steptoe asked his father-in-law to bring his knowledge of clock repair to the shop. He could work on company meter clocks used in the oil field, which metered the flow of gas, and also learned how to work on striking clocks as well. “He built a business inside the jewelry store,” tells Bill, “and had clocks coming from as far away as Tennessee to repair.”

During this time, Bill graduated from Carthage High School and continued his education at Panola College where he also played baseball. He married Wynell Marshall and she worked in the admissions office at Stephen F. Austin while Bill finished his degree. Bill learned the family trade working alongside his father and grandfather when he’d come in from college to make extra money. Bill and Wynell had their first child, Keith, and after graduation, moved to Houston where Bill was offered a job in outside sales. After eight years, and a second child, Stacie, the couple began to rethink their life’s plans. Both sets of parents were having health issues and Wynell announced one day she was ready to move back to Carthage. “We came to the realization we didn’t want to raise our kids in Houston,” recalls Bill. “We wanted to be back here in the small town atmosphere. Wynell and I were both raised in Carthage and we wanted our kids to benefit from that as well.” Bill never thought he wanted to be in the jewelry business, but he finally succumbed to his dad’s wishes and joined him.

After working with his dad and long-time employee Brenda Ritter in the garage-turned-jewelry-store on Daniels Street for about a year, the Steptoes were asked to be a part of the newly constructed Panola Plaza on West Panola. The larger space of the new store allowed the Steptoes to expand their merchandise and to build a successful business selling and repairing jewelry and watches. In 1981, the elder Steptoe died, followed a few months later by the grandfather, B.W. Reed. Bill was left to run the jewelry store alone. In 1983, Bill’s son, Keith, graduated from high school and wanted to be a part of the family business. He attended jewelry manufacturing and design school at Paris Jr. College to learn the trade. “He worked with me a short while, but Texas Instruments in Lewisville offered him a job because of his knowledge of working with small parts and I told him he should take it. I said this will always be here, but that’s a good company with a good position, so he went to work for them. Before he could come back and join me, we found out he had leukemia and a few months later he passed away.”

In 2002, the Panola Charter School wanted to move into the Panola Plaza, but needed more space than what was available, so after 28 years, Bill moved his jewelry store downtown in the building that was originally the CarTex Theater and next door to where his daddy began the original store. January 2015, marks 70 years of business for Steptoe’s Jewelry--and the secret to that longevity? “I went to business school which gave me a background, but I learned that you take care of your customers. You try to please them and do whatever is necessary and it will pay rewards.” Bill has seen many changes over the years. “We just changed with the industry and with what we needed to have here for our customers. I’ve got people that come from as far away as Jasper and from Shreveport, Longview and Marshall to do business with us because we provide quality work and strive to make our clientele happy.”

 Community involvement played a major role in the Steptoe family through the years. From involvement in youth programs and civic organizations, the Steptoes were at meetings several nights a week. “We did a little bit of everything. Bev Brown used to come interview me all the time because I was involved in so much.” One program Bill and Wynell are most proud of is their connection with the Keith Steptoe Classic golf tournament held each year on Easter weekend to honor their son. Funds raised benefit the Leukemia Society and the Carthage ISD Education Foundation plus a scholarship is awarded each year to a CHS student majoring in a technical field. The Steptoes recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and have no plans of slowing down. Bill had quadruple bypass surgery four years ago and the store was closed for seven weeks, but he had no plans of quitting. He enjoys fishing and being with family. “I have customers every day that say don’t you quit, we depend on you, and I tell them I’m not planning on it. I still love it. I like seeing my customers and knowing how I can help them.”