For more years than he cares to remember Bob Cable has been opening up shop on Elk Avenue. Friday, he will close shop for good. “I’m 75 years old, and at times I feel like it. It’s time to hang it up,” Cable said last week. “It’s something I’ve thought about before, then a job would come in. My thinking always was, ‘I’ll do this job and then quit.’ But, this time, I’m closing and going home.”
Cable has been doing business on Elk Avenue for 23 years, and prior to that, his upholstery shop was located across the Bristol Bridge in the Biltmore community. The business was originally owned by Rev Ledford. “I kept the name Ledford Upholstery after I took the business over. It wasn’t broke, so I didn’t fix it,” Cable said. Prior to getting into the upholstery business, Cable had worked at Beaunit Fibers and was a truck driver.
Cable said when he got into the upholstery business, he did it with “both feet.” For him, it was a good move, as it has provided him with a good living, an opportunity to help others and to give back to the community. “I’ve met a lot of people and made numerous friends through the years,” he said.
As a downtown business owner, Cable has devoted much of his time and energies to community projects. The walls of his office are adorned with frame recognitions and accolades from the community for his contributions, which have ranged from organizing parades, re-doing the Christmas tree greeting on Lynn Mountain, and planning the Fraser Fir lighting ceremony each Christmas. “I’ve accomplished a lot. I don’t have any regrets,” Cable said, noting that the project of which he was most proud was the redoing of the Merry Christmas greeting atop Lynn Mountain. “It will be there forever,” Cable exclaimed, noting that the letters, which are 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, are chiseled out of steel. “The 18.5-foot pole is creosote-treated. It is a greeting unique to Elizabethton and can be seen for miles around,” he said.
For several years, Cable single-handedly organized the July 4th Parade in downtown Elizabethton. “Like Christmas, July 4th is one of my favorite holidays. I was told that the 2008 parade brought more people to the downtown than any other single event had,” Cable said, noting that one ETSU professor put the number at 23,000 to 25,000 people.
For several years the parade route was marked by red, white and blue lines down Elk Avenue, something which Cable lobbied hard for. “I hated to see them go,” he said.
Cable is also caretaker of the big flag which flies at the intersection of W. Elk Avenue and Broad Street. Cable said because of the wear and tear on the flag by the weather, it usually has to be replaced about every four months. Cable orders the flags three feet longer than the regulation size and when the ends become frayed, he has it taken down and cuts off the frayed end and re-hems it. “This way it lasts longer,” he explained. Funds for the flags come from the veterans and the Elizabethton Fire Department assists with taking the flag down and putting it back up.
In 1991, when the Elizabethton National Guard returned home from several months of deployment to Saudia Arabia in Operation Desert Storm, Cable organized a welcome home celebration for the troops. He made and tied yellow ribbons on every utility pole from Highway 19-E to the VFW on W. Elk Avenue and bought 2,000 small American flags with his own money and had them distributed to the crowd, which lined Elk Avenue.
Cable also helped organized the annual Christmas parade downtown for several years and assisted with the lighting of the Fraser fir. As head of the Fraser Fir Committee he selected people who had a connection with either the Folsom house or the tree to turn the lights on. One of those people was Doris Folsom Davis, an ancestor of Major Folsom, who built the house and had the Fraser fir planted. “She had also lived in the house,” Cable said.
Cable’s business in past years has become a favorite place for businesspeople and politicians to hang out. “Sometimes, there’s 10 or 12 in here for lunch,” he said. For years he has kept a tray setting out, and those who frequent the shop on a regular basis toss their spare coins into the tray. At the end of the year, the coins are counted and given to St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. “It usually amounts to $1,000, more or less,” Cable said.
Among the honors that have come Cable’s way is being named Citizen of the Year by the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce and being Christmas Parade Marshal. “These are little things to most people, but to me they were big.” In fact, Cable still has his “Parade Marshal” sign displayed in his office.
Cable served on the Veterans War Memorial Committee and is a member of the board of directors of the Elizabethton-Carter County Foundation, which provides funds for worthy non-profit organizations in Elizabethton and Carter County.
Cable is an avid U-T fan and among his treasured possessions are a couple of U-T orange jackets, which have become a trademark. He along with Mayor Curt Alexander attended the UT National Championship game in Tempe, Arizona in 1998. “In fact, Curt and I went to every University of Tennessee football game that year together,” he shared.
In addition to his UT orange, Cable is a Volkswagen fan. He has a green 1977 Volkswagen, and its tag bears the initials of his four great-great-nieces and nephew — Gabriel, Bellah, Chloe, Ava and Sadie — which are more like grandchildren to him and his wife, Brenda.
Cable said he has enjoyed serving his customers, many of whom are repeat customers. He takes pride in the fact that he has done work for the Governor’s Mansion in Tennessee, the White House, and even for Martha Stewart. “I have stressed quality in my work, and it has showed with the number of customers who have returned to get work done,” Cable said.
Now that he is retiring, Cable said he plans to spend more time with his wife. “We might do a little traveling. But, for sure it will be a slower pace than what it has been,” he said.
Cable said he plans to put the business up for sale. “There’s still a need for an upholstery business, but no one teaches it anymore. The younger generation is not interested in learning it,” he said.