LEWISTON – The Village of Lewiston’s Center Street has evolved into a busy street full of festivals, restaurants and little shops.
But one little shop, Sister and Brother Children’s Apparel at 484 Center St., has been there for the past 60 years. And it has seen changes in both the street around it as well as how people shop.
In fact, one of the largest factors in how people shop today – the Internet and home shopping, unless it was a door-to-door salesman – could not even have been imagined decades ago. In 1954, IBM introduced its “Electronic Brain,” about as powerful as today’s laptop and so expensive that the company didn’t sell them but instead leased them to businesses for $25,000 – a month.
There was no cable television 60 years ago, so the “Barefoot Contessa” was not a cable TV cooking show, but instead was the top movie of 1954. Color television sets were just coming into the market, and “The Tonight Show” had just started with it’s first host, Steve Allen.
Joanne Shaghoian, the current owner of Sister and Brother, is the fifth, and second-longest, owner of the shop, at the helm for 19 years. Eileen Marshall, who opened the shop in 1954, ran it for 26 years; followed by Sue Collyer and Linda Stuart, who co-owned it for 10 years; Bridget Schroeder, who ran it for three years; and Marissa Bove, who operated for two years prior to Shaghoian.
Shaghoian, 72, who worked in the retail clothing industry for many years before taking over Sister and Brother, said she has seen many changes in both the business and along Center Street.
But one thing that has not changed, she said, is that mothers, and especially grandmothers, love to buy clothing for their children and grandchildren.
Sister and Brother is a specialty shop offering hard-to-find items such as christening dresses, Easter hats and dresses, suits for babies and toddlers, Italian hand-knit blankets, animated and unique stuffed animals, shoes and baby sunglasses and much more.
Have you seen Center Street change?
So many changes have happened since I have been here. So many businesses have come and gone. I’m the only one left on this block, from when I came here. The mayor’s business, Terry Collesano’s barbershop on the corner, used to be a liquor store. Next door they had an Irish store. It was a couple other businesses before the bookstore came in. On the other side was Coulson’s Pharmacy. They were there for many, many years, but the big stores like CVS and Rite Aid, ended up taking over.
Are big-box stores a problem for you?
Well, we have the specialty things that the other stores don’t have. We sell a lot of talking plush toys, really cute things you don’t find everywhere. You have to have something a little different. Things you don’t see everywhere else.
What is it like to own a kids’ store?
It is fun. People love buying baby clothes. But I go to size 14 in girls and size 7 in boys. But my best business is the babies. For new babies, they buy everything. Our (little boy) bomber jacket is one of our most popular, and baby’s first jeans in a gift box with a space for photos.
You really get to know families.
I had one grandmother come in last week and tell me they had a baby that was 1 pound, 4 ounces. The smallest I had ever heard of before was 1 pound, 6 ounces, and that little girl is now a teenager and is doing great. But they worry so much and have so many problems.
It sounds like you have adopted these kids.
It really is a little bit like a family. You see these kids grow up. The kids that were five or six when I first came here are grown up and out of college. They have their first jobs.
Are you a native of Lewiston?
I grew up in Niagara Falls, but now there is so much crime. I would never want a shop there. Lewiston is a peaceful place. They have volunteers who keep it beautiful. We get people from all over who come to visit the falls, and then they come here.
What did you do before you owned Sister and Brother?
I worked at Sears for 25 years. I was the assistant manager of operations. And over the years I managed just about every soft line (clothing) department in the store. When things went bad, I took a buyout and left.
What made you decide you wanted to be the owner of your own store?
It was a good time for my stage in life, and I didn’t have to work corporate and take orders from anybody else.
Did you make any major renovations when you took over?
Not really. In the back we still have an area for the toddlers to play when the moms want to shop. I put more racks in that I bought from when Jenss went out of business.
How has business changed in the clothing industry?
Everybody’s got their cameras and sending out pictures. They used to come in and buy something. Now they have to send a picture to five people to see which one they like. But they all come back after the kid is baptized and show me the gown they bought here and how it looked.
Do you sell things online?
I don’t use Facebook and those things, with the mean stuff, talking back and forth. I have a website, but I don’t take orders. I use (the computer) to order stuff sometimes. In the past all the little stores could go to one place and look at samples in person. It made such a difference to feel the fabric. I still have a couple salesman who come in, but so many have come and gone out of business.
How do you avoid that?
For me it’s kind of second nature I’ve been doing it so long. Order what they want and sell what they are looking for.
How do people hear about you?
A lot of people who come to the festivals will come in and check us out. We really can’t afford much advertising. It’s mostly word of mouth. When my daughter was growing up in Niagara Falls, we had at least five stores that sold children’s clothing, but now they are all gone.
Do you think some of this is because of the Internet?
Some young people shop online constantly, but here you get to see it and know what it is. It’s better than just a picture. The Internet has really changed things. But the grandmas – they just love this store, and they can afford to come in and buy the nicer things. People love the things they can’t find anywhere else.
Is your shop doing well?
I will never be rich, but it does well enough for me to get by. Everybody is losing ground to the computer, but I have had offers to buy the shop. I have no plans, whatsoever, to retire. To me, as long as you feel good, you should work as long as you can. I have never been one to sit around the house. I’ve met a lot of nice people.
You said your late husband, Ralph, worked with you in the shop.
My husband loved it here. He used to sit with the little kids, the babies, on his lap while their mothers would shop. He was real good with the little kids. He worked construction all his life, and when I bought this store, he decided to retire and help me. He passed away almost nine years ago, but we worked together for 10 years before he died. It was nice.