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A different time in retail

Posted January 07, 2015 in Community Featured, Greene County

 

One day late last summer, Alice Shriver and Helen Marshall were volunteering as hosts at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson. 

“It was a little slow that day, so Helen and I were looking around the exhibits, and I wandered into one of the back rooms,” Shriver said. “There was this large old photo sitting on a shelf, and out of curiosity I started looking at it. A description on it said it was a training class for all these people at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago in February of 1947.  And then I got a real surprise – I saw my 17-year-old self in the picture!”

Alice Shriver was surprised to find this picture from 1947 at the Greene County Historical Museum. It shows a retail training class she attended in Chicago when she was 17.

Alice Shriver was surprised to find this
picture from 1947 at the Greene County
Historical Museum. It shows a retail training
class she attended in Chicago when
she was 17.

 

She was Alice Morlan then, “a country girl from west of town.  I’d never been anywhere or experienced much.”  But as a student at Jefferson High School, she landed a part-time job at the Bon Ton Shoppe, a women’s clothing store on the west side of the square.  The owner Lucy Wolfe taught her how to be a clerk.  “I didn’t make much at first,” Alice said. “I think I spent most of what I earned, buying new clothes.” When she graduated at the age of 16 from JHS in 1946, she went to work full-time at the Bon Ton. “That was a real busy time for stores in Jefferson,” Alice Morlan Shriver recalls. “People weren’t driving off to the cities to shop, they were doing it here.  I think there were four or five women’s clothing stores in Jefferson then – one of them, Downes Style Shoppe, right next door to the Bon Ton.”

Her boss invited her to go along for a couple of marketing trips to Chicago, riding trains from Jefferson to the city and back. They’d see the latest styles from garment manufacturers and be able to receive training in fashion and accessories. On the trip in February, 1947, the training was on how to fit customers for Camp-brand “surgical corsets.”  Those were like long girdles to help women with back trouble or shaping concerns.

The business trips included nice meals at Chicago restaurants. “And I remember once we all went to see Frank Sinatra perform at some big theater,” Shriver said. “The girls were screaming. That was a big deal!  I think back on that now and I must’ve been really thrilled.  My gosh, Lucy Wolfe was good to me, letting me do all those things.”

After working five years at the Bon Ton, Alice moved on to work at Brenton Bank.  She married postal employee Doug Shriver in 1953, and then she worked at home when they started their family.

The Bon Ton was owned for years by Lucy Wolfe, later in a partnership with her son Jerry Wolfe.  Its business life stretched from the ’teens to about 1960, according to Kristin Roberts, granddaughter of Lucy and daughter of Jerry. Eventually they closed the store and rented the space to Ryerson’s Ready to Wear.  How the old photo wound up at the historical museum is a mystery.

 
Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, is on the board of directors of the Greene County Historical Society. You can write him at
chuck@Offenburger.com.





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