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Forty-eight years and still going strong

More than 10 million women-owned or partially owned businesses exist in the United States today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It’s a huge jump considering that, in the early 1960s, less than 40 percent of America’s women were even in the workforce.
But in Jonesborough, one woman was not only in the workforce in the 60s, she was ahead of the curve when it comes to owning a business.
Lifelong Washington Countian Joan Furches was born on Cherokee Road in 1934, the daughter of a minister and a mother who worked outside the home at Klopman Mills.
She attended school at Lamar, enrolled in East Tennessee State University and then did what many young women did in that day – dropped out of school and got married.
“I liked going to school, but I never really made up my mind what I wanted to study,” Furches said.
Her marriage to Jim Furches, who was serving in the U.S. Army, took the couple to the Pacific northwest to a military base in the state of Washington.
The couple lived there for two years, then returned home.
It was time to start looking for jobs.
Furches was in her early 20s when she went to work for J. C. Penney as a sales clerk. She worked “all over the store,” spending seven years with the retailer. By the time she was ready to move on, she had been promoted to the position of catalog supervisor.
Furches and her husband decided they were ready to have a business of their own.
They purchased Carey’s Five & Dime in Jonesborough – a variety store located at 117 E. Main St. The two put their name to the store, calling it “Furches Variety.”
The store had “anything and everything — from a mousetrap to a $100 dress,” Furches said. “Back then, a $100 dress was really something. All the young couples in town shopped with us.”
The business thrived. Furches remembers one Saturday, nearly 50 years ago, the store had more than $9,000 in sales in one day, “just selling little stuff.”
“People came to shop with us to buy all their toys for Christmas,” she said. “All the men bought gifts for their wives there.”
The store’s inventory came mainly from Bristol, Knoxville and Chicago. Its huge candy counter was a popular attraction, filled with loose candy “bought by the truckload,” Furches recalled.
Business continued to boom until downtown construction started to interfere in the 1970s.
“We had to walk on planks to get in our businesses,” Furches said. “That construction lasted two years. A lot of people lost their businesses during that time, but we were able to hang on for a couple more years.”
But soon afterward, Furches and her husband made a decision to end both their marriage and their business partnership.
Suddenly on her own, Furches started a small antique store, Emporium Antiques, in the same building that had housed Furches Variety.
She rented from her ex-husband for a little while before the building was sold.
In need of a new place to set up shop and with plans to expand her antiques business, she moved next door to 115 E. Main St. and opened Jonesborough Antique Mart, a business she has now owned and operated for 48 years.
Shoppers can find everything from vintage clothing to an antique silver teapot in the 1800s building nestled in the heart of Tennessee’s oldest town.
Although Furches’ long tenure as a female business owner has had its tests along the way, it’s apparent she takes great pride in her life’s work.
“A woman can stand alone if she’s strong enough,” Furches said. “She can make it even when the times get tough.”
“I’ve never borrowed money, never asked for help,” Furches said, but added that she has many dear friends to thank who have freely offered their assistance. “We enjoyed rearranging and sprucing up the business. I have had so many good friends who loved to come over and help. We have had a lot of fun.”