News Tribune Attic: Remembering a Duluth shopping institution
News Tribune Attic Odd, obscure, historic, humorous, random and/or relevant items from the archives of the Duluth News Tribune August 22, 1982 Silver's, at 1303 Jefferson St. in Duluth in this view from August 1982, gives little clue it's anythin...
Odd, obscure, historic, humorous, random and/or relevant items from the archives of the Duluth News Tribune
August 22, 1982
Silver’s, at 1303 Jefferson St. in Duluth in this view from August 1982, gives little clue it’s anything but a private home. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)
Silver’s: Super chic store in different setting
By Sandy Battin, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer
Silver’s is so exclusive, women tell each other in hushed tones, that you have to call in advance and make an appointment to shop there.
And you can’t just walk inside – you must be introduced by someone who’s been a customer for years, they say knowingly.
Ellie Lindgren, manager of the women’s clothing shop at 1303 Jefferson St., laughs when she hears such talk.
“Maybe they think that’s true because a lot of our customers will call in first and say, ‘Ellie, what’s the best time to come in?’ A lot just don’t like to waste time waiting,” she said.
Or perhaps it’s because they – or their mothers – still remember when the late Ida Silver started her business back in the late 1930s. “She sold the clothes in her apartment, open by appointment in the evenings,” Lindgren said.
The Silver’s mystique has also been fed by the fact that the business neither advertises nor shouts out its presence with an outdoor sign. A small, simple and tasteful engraved nameplate on the door is the only indication that the former carriage house across the street from the Armory is more than an ordinary home.
Those aren’t the only differences about shopping at Silver’s. Gather your curiosity and your courage and go inside.
Mabel Sonju and her daughter, Phlaine Johnson of Two Harbors, relax in the parlor while Ellie Lindgren shows them a blouse. The rack means a special sale is on. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)
Entry is through a room that seems more parlor than place of business. A love seat nestles comfortably behind a pair of small Oriental-style tables just right for serving coffee. Classic prints from Vogue magazines adorn the papered wall.
Mirrored shelves and an old-fashioned dressing table display such things as ceramic pitchers, jade jewelry and woolen scarves. Most unusual, there are jars of jam from England and special vinegars imported from France.
The atmosphere is warm. Customers are greeted by name and with a hug. Coffee and cookies are served and customers stop to admire what Lindgren is wearing, perhaps ask how they’d look in a similar belt or jacket.
Customers are invited into one of the special fitting rooms, a private place furnished with full-length mirrors, an old Chinese chest and a matching lacquered chair. Prints from Godey’s Lady’s Book, Victorian America’s fashion arbiter, set the scene. In elegant luxury, the salesclerk brings clothing she believes will suit and delight you. No racks are in sight anywhere except when a special sale is under way a few times a year.
It’s an atmosphere and a service not found much anymore – even in fashion centers such as New York. “It’s almost like something out of the past,” Lindgren said. “People say it’s quaint, unusual, different.”
Mabel Sonju of London Road in Duluth prepares to try on clothing Ellie Lindgren has selected just for her. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)
If you’ve been a customer for long, chances are Lindgren knows just what you’re looking for. “Each item is picked to suit a special customer’s needs,” Lindgren said. When she flies to New York, Chicago or Houston on a buying trip, Lindgren keeps each of her regular customers in mind. She may buy a dress in one’s favorite color or another in a style that suits someone else.
Such a dress will be the only one to be sold in Duluth. “The dresses in the couture lines we don’t duplicate,” said Wilson Thompson, who has owned the shop for eight years.
Alterations make sure the items fit. “You can change a dress one whole size down or one size up. … Few people are a perfect size 8. We weren’t all stamped out of the same mold,” Lindgren explained.
Lindgren prides herself on knowing her customers’ figures and what will look good on them. “No matter where you buy your clothes, if they don’t fit they’re no good,” she said. “If one of your shoulders is lower than the other, we’ll put in a shoulder pad. If one hip is higher, we’ll let the hem down a little on that side. We … alter their clothes according to their figures.
“Help (store employees) is not something that changes every month,” she said. “That’s why they’re able to give the special service.
“How many times have you been dressed and pampered?”
Ellie Lindgren, manager of Silver’s in Duluth, shows off some of the clothing in stock. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)
Some women fly in from Oklahoma, Texas or Minneapolis just to shop Silver’s. Another woman has a selection of clothing sent to her in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Clothing is from such designers as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Adelle Simpson and “lots of silk from China,” Lindgren said.
Each piece of clothing is registered with a description at the shop. “We’ve had people with fires, thefts and so forth,” Thompson said, “and we’re able to tell them what they paid for it.”
Lindgren likes to describe the clothing Silver’s sells as unique. “We sell some classics, but also the unusual, the different, the extraordinary, the elegant.”
“But things are not so high-style that they’re not usable,” added Thompson. “A lot of people have the mistaken opinion that we’re high priced. I think we have a price for everyone. Maybe we won’t have a $39 dress but, in the intermediate range, we’d have something for $69.”
The difference is also that Silver’s urges women to try clothes they might have believed they could never look and feel good in. “We dare to do something a little bit out of the ordinary,” Lindgren said. “When you pay $200 for an outfit you want something that’s a little daring. … Everybody likes to be feminine and young-looking.
“You want, when you come into a room, for there to be an intake of breath.”
A sign in the window of Silver’s Dress Shop, 1123 E. Superior St., says it has temporarily closed on January 15, 2001.(Bob King / News Tribune)
At some point after 1982, Silver’s moved to the big mansion at 1123 E. Superior St. – one of the houses threatened with demolition as Walgreens wants to build a new store on the site. Efforts are under way to move and save the mansion.
Silver’s shows up again in the archives in late 2000 and early 2001, as its inventory was seized to be auctioned off by the IRS to pay off federal tax liens in excess of $300,000.
Emily Hanson, 19, of Duluth, expresses her delight with the fit and style of this long, black formal dress at Silver Rose in June 2001. Emily was shopping for a dress with her mom, Pat. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)
In June 2001, the store reopened at the Superior Street location under new ownership as Silver Rose. While it’s no longer in operation on Superior Street, I think the business continues today in Cloquet – correct me if I’m wrong.
And as for the carriage house on Jefferson Street that house Silver’s for so many years, it’s gone – does anyone know when it was torn down? The National Bank of Commerce now occupies the site.
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