A reluctant goodbye to a business institution

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A reluctant goodbye to a business institution

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Published Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  631 Words  |  opinions

A walk through the Lipsitz Department Store in downtown Beaufort was like striding into a time warp.
It was a place where a young mother could take her child in for the same treatment, in the same chairs, in the same room where she herself experienced what became fond childhood memories.
The 107-year-old business is gone now. At the end of February, it closed shop at the corner of Bay and West streets. Bidders paid top dollar for some of the golden nuggets of yesteryear that never left the store: $500 for a pair of 1950s Levi's jeans, $800 for a Swift soap container and matching soap, and $775 for the plastic goose that laid eggs filled with trinkets for kids who might then help convince their moms to buy a pair of Red Goose shoes.
Everyone understands why Lucille Lipsitz needed to close the store that was started by her father-in-law. She's 78 and has been running the store herself since Alzheimer's disease sent her husband, Joe Lipsitz, into the Victory House nursing home for veterans in Walterboro.
Alene Moore, now 92, worked in the store for 65 years. Effie Martin, 85, worked there for a mere 50 years. They were like family to Joe and Lucille Lipsitz and their children, Neil, Barry, Sandra and Judy. They were known as the "Lipsitz girls."
They knew how to handle the X-ray machine that would allow children to see the bones in their feet -- better to get just the right fit of shoe.
They knew how to handle Lippy the mynah bird that would greet customers with, "Hello, what ya want?" or bellow out a shoe brand, "Stride Rite!"
Beaufort has lost a piece of its unique heart and soul that fit just right.
We can learn a lot from this turning point if we are wise.
Lipsitz was not a grand get-rich-quick scheme, the likes of which have buckled the national economy and brought us to the brink of despair.
Lipsitz was instead a steady endeavor in which family, employees and customers were as important as the bottom line. Many values could be learned at Lipsitz, but greed was never one of them.
Lipsitz did not merrily float along all those years. It faced many a storm and changed as the market changed. At one time it offered everything from bolts to groceries, but it evolved in part due to competition by the likes of Belk, Kmart and Walmart.
Lipsitz made it through the Great Depression. And it walked carefully through decades of a hand-to-mouth Lowcountry economy that had more downs than ups. Nobody went hungry, but few had much money to spend.
As the old door was shut for the last time at the department store (Neil Lipsitz continues to operate Lipsitz Shoes across the street), it came as the local economy suffers like few have ever seen.
The story of the Lipsitz store emphasizes how much we need each other to survive through thick and thin. We need to spend our money locally. We can see by the story of this store how those local purchases touch many lives.
We can see that local, small businesses give back to the community in many ways. We can see that they are the backbone of the economy and how important it is for each of us to support that economy.
Also, we can get the much-needed message that "this too shall pass." The Lipsitz store survived many a harsh downturn, and maybe that can give a ray of hope today.
We reluctantly bid the Lipsitz Department Store goodbye.
But we will hold onto its values as we see anew how important those values are to our economic survival.