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Billy Jefferson returns to Main Street

Big Bargain is back. One of Main Street’s most familiar faces is spending more time in his furniture store these days, perhaps as an early holiday gift to customers, friends and fellow merchants who missed him all summer.

87-year old Billy Jefferson, the jovial, story-telling, wise-cracking owner/head salesman in charge of Big Bargain Furniture has been in downtown Washington in various roles for almost 80 years, including a stint as a paper delivery boy for this publication.

Jefferson and his wife DeVere spent more time at home as a precaution when COVID-19 hit in mid-March. Six weeks later, a trip to the doctor revealed cancer in both lungs.

“I was really scared at that point,” Jefferson said. “I was having trouble breathing and they were draining a quart of fluid off me every week. I’ve always tried to keep a positive outlook, but it was tough then.”

As his birthday approached in June, Jefferson’s son, Bill who helps his dad run the store, put out a public appeal for people to mail in or drop off birthday cards to lift his dads’ spirits. Mission accomplished. Over 100 cards came in from around the country.

“It was amazing to get so many and I read every one of them,” Jefferson said. “I spent several hours going over them and have read most of them two or three times. It helped me so much at one of my lowest points and I really appreciate everybody taking time to think of me.”

One of the cards came from a long-time customer who moved to Beaufort County from Florida 40 years ago. The brand new resident walked into the store with his girlfriend looking to furnish his house. The man had no job and no credit established, but Jefferson played a hunch and told him to pick out what he wanted. Bill Jefferson continues the tale.

“The guy found a job, married the girl and hasn’t bought any furniture from anybody but us that we know of. Several members of his family are customers also. He told us in the card that he walked out that day feeling like a million bucks because of the way my dad treated him.”

The elder Jefferson’s health has steadily improved thanks to frequent trips to the Vidant Cancer Center in Greenville. His latest treatment involved minimally invasive infusions that have left him feeling like coming back to the store more often.

“Back in the summer, I couldn’t walk from the back parking lot to my desk without stopping,” Jefferson said. “The other day I walked up to Gladden street to check on the construction project and made it all the way back to the store. It’s been a month since they drained my right lung and two months for the left. The doctors have done great work and I’m hoping to be here at the store three or four hours a day every day for as long as I can.”

Like other Main Street merchants, Jefferson is happy that a new and improved Main Street will greet customers this holiday season.

“It looks great and we, along with the other small businesses here are very happy that it’s open,” Jefferson said. “I think it will help everybody have a good holiday selling season and will lead to tremendous growth in the years ahead. I’m proud of being the oldest merchant on the street and I want my neighbors to be around for a while as well.”