By DENNIS SEID
TUPELO – J.J. Rogers and Sons wholesale distributors got its start in Verona a year after the Civil War ended. The company founder, whose name has carried the business for four generations, opened a general supply store with $3,500, but within two years was able to open a branch house in Plantersville.
Long Wholesale Distributors Inc. was founded in 1922 by Erst Long Sr. as Tippah Wholesale Co. in Ripley. It sold groceries, general merchandise, hardware and other supplies.
After the Verona and Plantersville locations were destroyed by fire, J.J. Rogers reopened the business in Verona, then moved it to Tupelo, adding a furnishing store as well. Produce and cotton also were offered.
Soon, the business expanded into cotton and grocery warehouses as country stores were opened “all over the territory” according to the Nov. 8, 1900, edition of the Journal.
Rogers & Son increased its stock of groceries and feeds, then changed its name to J.J. Rogers and Son Wholesale and Retail Grocers.
The retail end went away in 1905, but the company began roasting and packing its own coffee.
“We also packed tea and had our own cola,” said Britt Rogers, the company's vice president. “Back then, distributors did a little bit of everything.”
The company's wholesale and cotton operations continued to grow until a fire in 1942 destroyed the wholesale business. And with World War II going on, most of the employees joined the armed forces, including J. Gayle Rogers, a “senior member of the partnership,” according to the Journal.
But the company operated despite the war. The cotton department was enlarged, but the coffee roasting and wholesale operations were scaled back. When Gayle returned, the company bought the Tupelo Cotton Mill, which was built in 1899.
And as the rest of the company's salesmen returned from duty, their old territories were reopened and the wholesale business expanded once more.
Growth for Long
Also in the 1940s, Long opened another warehouse in Corinth under the name Alcorn Wholesale. Sons Erst Long Jr. and Raiford Long became active in the business after their service in World War II.
In 1964, the company bought the Sturges Co. in Meridian. Three new warehouses have since been added, with two in Meridian and one in Corinth. Long later merged with Corr-Williams Wholesale of Meridian in the mid-1980s and with Hattiesburg Grocery Co. in 2002. This month, it finalized a merger with J.J. Rogers and Sons in Tupelo.
Britt, 62, and his brother, Jameson, 56, are the fourth generation of Rogers, but said they sought the merger because their children had other interests.
With the deal, the company's distribution radius of about 90 miles will now be expanded to include parts of West Tennessee and South Mississippi.
Rogers distributes groceries of all types, including canned goods, flour, sugar, cheese and eggs. It also has health and beauty aids, tobacco and cigarettes, beverages and candy.
Long has four divisions:
- The grocery division provides convenience stores with more than 6,400 different items. including cand, tobacco, beverages and groceries.
- The novelty division carries a wide array of products including jewelry, porcelain figurines, glassware, toys and other “impulse” items.
- RackMasters is a full-line health and beauty care division which includes peggable candy, over-the-counter drugs, personal care and snacks.
- The Food Service division carries a limited line of food service items including chicken tenders and several varieties of country ham, biscuits and other items.