An "Inside Look" at a Retailer...
It was twenty years ago, and an article appeared in a local newspaper describing a new business opening in the bucolic town of Westport, MA. Underneath the photo of Sally Schimmel and Ann Frechette, the caption read, “they now hope to prove their idea will survive in the real world….”. And survive it did! Two decades later, in the same old rambling farmhouse they selected for the business plan they conceived in an entrepreneurial class, A.S. Deams thrives.
Like many other retailers, this endeavor was not in the grand scheme of things for the two women who were then in their 40’s. But through happenstance, and the unexpected opportunities that fell into their laps with their previous employer, they were able to hone their chops, and proved to be quite talented in the retail field.
Sally Schimmel, originally from Coopersburg Pennsylvania, graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Sociology and Psychology. After graduation, she married and moved East with her then husband, who worked in the private school sector. After a stint in New Hampshire where her two sons were born, she moved to North Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1970. A year later, while settling into life in her new environs, she took a job at Silas Brown Inc., a unique specialty shop in Westport Massachusetts that sold everything from women’s apparel to wallpaper. Here she met her friend Anne Frechette, who was from the area.
Sally was originally hired as a salesperson in the decorating department. She did everything from mixing paint to ordering wallpaper and upholstery for her customers. The shop also sold and repaired lamps. She moved into the role of office manager “overnight “. She was summoned to the hospital by the present manager, who was a patient, and was asked to bring with her a letter opener, some paper and a pencil. She was trained for her new position in an afternoon and held this office manager role for 10 years. Somewhere along the way, she also started buying for the store. When Anne came on board, she had no retail experience, but they soon learned she was an amazing merchandiser and display person. They both remained with Silas Brown for about 29 years until the business closed its doors.
Now you had two talented women, with time on their hands. When they went to the unemployment office, they noticed a flyer for an entrepreneurial program and signed up! Their assignment for the class was to create a plan for a ‘fake business’. And here, the idea for A.S. Deams was born. A was for Anne, S was for Sally, and DEAMS was Sally’s father’s first name (which, by the way, was misspelled by his mother on his birth certificate). They found a location in a farmhouse built in 1875, just down the road from their old employer. They renovated and preserved where needed, and opened their doors within a year.
They started by carrying many of the apparel and accessory lines that they were familiar with from the old store. For their grand opening, they did a mass mailing, and to this day it is still the biggest day on record. They did away with the home décor element of Silas Brown but they continued to sell tabletop gifts and lamps.
Sadly, in 2010, Anne, Sally’s friend and business partner passed away unexpectedly.
Today, almost 20 years later, A.S. Deams is still a lovely place to shop for traditional and classically styled clothing and accessories, though Sally claims it is getting more difficult to find product in this category. She is a firm believer of ‘sticking to what you’re good at and don’t try to be everything to everybody’. She learned that they can’t sell jeans, but they can sell a heck of a lot of jackets. She feels blessed to have such a wonderful staff of four women. As I was finishing up my interview with Sally , I discovered I wasn’t in any hurry to leave . I was sitting in a wing chair in one of the many wonderfully decorated rooms, with beautiful oriental rugs and the scent of pine. I was surrounded by her tasteful displays of apparel, gifts…… and don’t forget the lamps! Customers were milling around, browsing, chatting, trying things on in the dressing room. I felt like I was at a friend’s house. And I think her customers feel that way too, and that’s why they keep coming back.