DECATUR – The Haines & Essick store's long goodbye began Thursday at lunchtime with the start of a closing sale filled with happy shoppers finding bargains but who kept saying how sad it all was.
On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to buy cool stuff ranging from up-market kitchen gadgets and books to high-end stationery and gifts and all marked down, as the store put it, “aggressively.”
But with a closure that has come after a storied 114-year history in Decatur touching on the lives of generations, the sale had the feeling of shopping the up-market home of a beloved and dying friend.
“Oh, I love to shop here, and I am just so sorry to see it leave,” said Doris Smith, 81, who lives in Decatur and brought her extended family along for the Haines & Essick last hurrah. “What will I miss the most? Oh, gosh, all the beautiful knick-knacks and their Christmas displays, they were always phenomenal.”
The sale doors opened at noon, and the line waiting to get in had built up until it ran west from the store's main entrance at 150 E. William St. and snaked around the corner onto North Main Street.
The determined but patient throng included downtown female office workers wobbling on high heels, several people using walkers and at least one shopper in a wheelchair.
But in front of all of them was Sylvia Shadwell, 70, who had arrived at 11 a.m to secure the top slot. A few minutes later, the Decatur woman was weaving her way through the packed interior, a basket with preserves and gourmet dips in her hand and bittersweet memories in her head.
As fellow shoppers squeezed by clutching everything from lamps to a stuffed giraffe, Shadwell was a 10-year-old girl again. She recalled how she had saved her allowance for ages until she had enough to spend $15 each on a pair of decorative plaster plaques she had coveted in Haines & Essick and planned to give her Mom for Christmas.
“I came in and bought them and when I got on the bus to go home it was snowing and I slipped and fell and broke them both,” she said. “When my dad saw me he felt so sad he gave me the money to replace them.”
Now it's the store itself that can't be replaced in Shadwell's eyes, a piece of Decatur that will soon live only in her memory.
“Just so much of the downtown I remember is gone,” she added. “It's changing times, and I am really going to miss Haines & Essick.”
Sue Miller, director of retail sales for Striglos Haines & Essick, had earlier told the Herald & Review that shifting shopping habits and a post-recession recovery that didn't meet expectations doomed the store.
On Thursday afternoon, she was a retail general marshaling her troops as the shoppers surged this way and that. Many of them kept stopping their shopping to tell her how sorry they were, like relatives passing on condolences.
“Everybody, everybody, everybody is like that,” Miller said.
She said the store has been a part of so many lives for so long that seeing it go for many customers is like bidding farewell to a part of their own lives.
“We're part of their past, part of what they grew up with,” she added. “And when anything like that changes, it's hard for people to accept.”
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