House native never strays from job

By Marlena Hartz

CLOVIS — A complete living room set, with patterned pillows placed across a coordinating couch, graces the entrance of Roden-Smith Village. The cozy setting is enhanced by Cleo Mullis, an 80-year-old associate who approaches her work like a grandmother approaches homemaking, fussing over shelves, dusting and rearranging, and greeting customers like old family members.
A Roden-Smith employee since 1944, Mullis has witnessed a range of store reincarnations. Trading in life on the farm for the world of retail, she landed a gig as a soda cashier at the store, then located on Fourth and Main streets. She grew up in House, but left her parents’ way of life behind for the bustling downtown of Clovis.
She has never changed jobs, but was swept uptown to the Hilltop Plaza, and then north, when the store moved to its current Llano Estacado Boulevard locale, evolving to meet the demands of its customers.
“I never had the desire to work anywhere else,” said Mullis, her hands, riddled with arthritis, crossed politely in her lap. “I began working during the war. It was a completely different store then, strictly a pharmacy with a soda fountain.”
Her stunning good looks, say fellow employees, drew in leagues of military men during World War II who were stationed at the base that would come to be known as Cannon. Her reputation as a charming saleswoman fused with the store’s reputation. Now, customers and employees view her as a staple at Roden Smith.
“We have men who come in here and say ‘I will never forget that pretty girl,’” said fellow employee Cindy Gibson. “She’s the stone. People recognize her. They walk through that door and she knows what they want before they do.”
After graduating from serving sodas, Mullis attended cosmetic workshops in Lubbock and Amarillo and began selling upscale cosmetics, in a department once linked to most pharmacies. The industries expanded and grew apart as high-end cosmetics found a niche in department stores.
When ownership of the store transferred to a Minnesota couple, Bruce and Pamela Gray, Mullis continued peddling makeup. But the store moved locations for a third time and the cosmetics department was dropped in favor of an expanded gift shop, with furniture hand picked from Mexican retailers, slowly edging out even more products.
“The only constant is change,” said co-owner Bruce Gray, laughing, as he inadvertently described another steadfast characteristic of Roden Smith. “Eventually the cosmetic business disappeared, but Cleo stayed. She was one of those sales girls who could wait on three people at the same time and keep them all happy. The only time she ever fusses is when we get a new cash register. She worked on the old hand-cranked machines that ran with no electricity.”
Although there are days when her hands are swollen and working is difficult, employees of Roden-Smith say Mullis doesn’t often complain. And, no, she has no plans for retirement.