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150 years of style

Weaver’s fashions success in downtown Lawrence

Joe Flannery, left, president of Weaver's Department Store, and Earl Reineman, vice president, continue a retail legacy born 150 years ago on Massachusetts Street.

Joe Flannery, left, president of Weaver's Department Store, and Earl Reineman, vice president, continue a retail legacy born 150 years ago on Massachusetts Street.

September 30, 2007

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Three Questions with ... Joe Flannery, president of Weaver's Department Store

Joe Flannery, president of Weaver's Department Store, answers three questions addressing the past, present and future of Weaver's Department Store, a business with roots back to a dry-goods store opened by Lathrop Bullene in 1857. Enlarge video

The biggest retailer in downtown Lawrence is also the oldest

6News Business Editor Mark Fagan tells us how an independent department store embraces its past while looking to the future after 150 years in business. Enlarge video

This 1971 photo shows the results of a fresh exterior remodeling project that covered the building's windows and brick facade, including the familiar Weavers sign that remains today. Joe Flannery, president, says he is considering a new logo that would add an apostrophe to the store's name.

This 1971 photo shows the results of a fresh exterior remodeling project that covered the building's windows and brick facade, including the familiar Weavers sign that remains today. Joe Flannery, president, says he is considering a new logo that would add an apostrophe to the store's name.

The "Weaver's Girls" stand in front of a parade float in 1946 showing the store's three locations. They were waiting at 12th and Rhode Island streets.

The "Weaver's Girls" stand in front of a parade float in 1946 showing the store's three locations. They were waiting at 12th and Rhode Island streets.

In 1940, Weaver's associates gather for a parade at Seventh and Massachusetts streets.

In 1940, Weaver's associates gather for a parade at Seventh and Massachusetts streets.

Three charities to Share in celebration

In honor of Weaver's 150th anniversary, the store will be making donations to three area charities:

¢ Meals on Wheels

¢ Douglas County Child Development Association

¢ Women's Transitional Care Services

Weaver's will donate 10 percent of the purchase price of all items sold through Oct. 8 to the organization of each customer's choice. All the customer needs to do is tell the cashier, and the donation will be made.

"Lawrence has been good to us," said Joe Flannery, store president. "We want to give something back."

Having survived the immediacy of Internet retailing, the expansion of Wal-Mart, the emergence of shopping malls, the depths of the Great Depression and the limitations of a rope-and-pulley system for carting merchandise, money and paperwork to and from a central cashier, Weaver's Department Store is ready to move on.

To its next 150 years.

"It never gets easy," said Joe Flannery, president of the store that's been a Massachusetts Street fixture since 1857, a year before Macy's opened in New York. "We're competitive. If we weren't competitive, and we didn't have great people, we wouldn't be here."

Such steadfast commitment and an optimistic outlook have carried the retailer ever since Lathrop Bullene opened his dry goods shop in the fall of 1857 in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street.

The approach certainly has come in handy:

¢ In 1863, the original Bullene and Read store was destroyed by fire during Quantrill's Raid.

¢ In 1917, a coal shortage forced the new location, at 741 Mass., to go a few days without heat.

¢ In 1980, a broken water main sent water cascading into the basement at 901 Mass., dousing merchandise and submerging business records in water up to six feet deep.

But such challenges couldn't keep Flannery or his predecessors from persevering, prospering and planning for bright futures. Bullene expanded the store; A.D. Weaver bought out his competitor, and moved into his building at Ninth and Massachusetts. Larry Flannery Sr. - Joe's dad - put together a corporation to carry on Weaver's work.

Today, Joe Flannery continues to track matters large and small. He's active in buying groups that give the store buying power otherwise reserved for national chains.

He also is talking about updating the store's logo to add an apostrophe to "Weavers" - an effort to formalize the Weaver's version he's been using for years - although financial priorities might keep him from changing the storefront for a while.

'Up to the challenge'

Such are the responsibilities of a store manager, whether it's 1857 or 2007.

"I'd say it's always challenging, but not to the extent that we don't think we'll be up to the challenge," Flannery said.

That Weaver's is an independent retailer isn't all that unusual, as half of all retail businesses in the U.S. are independents, said Daniel Butler, vice president for merchandising and retail operations for the National Retail Federation, a trade group.

That Weaver's continues as an independent department store is a bit more unusual, considering that many such independent stores and regional operations have been bought out by larger chains and national companies.

That Weaver's has endured for 150 years as an independent department store - on the same street, in the same town and under family ownership that traces back to the store's founder - puts the business in fairly select company.

"The oldest retailer on the North American continent is the Hudson Bay Company, which is a department store in Canada that is well over 300 years old," Butler said. "But it's always an accomplishment when someone hits a major milestone like 50, 75, 100, 150 or 200 years.

"It certainly speaks to the fact that there's been a tradition of customer service there. They've known how to serve the customers in the market where they live and they - as a family and as a set of families or companies over the years - have been able to really change with the market and evolve with the ever-changing retail market, which changes more now than ever before, and at a faster rate."

Old-time charm

While the store continues efforts to keep up with stocking national brands, tracking customer preferences and competing with competitors' prices, there are touches that remain uniquely Weaver's.

One example: Complimentary gift-wrapping in the housewares department downstairs puts dozens of people to work during the holidays, a tradition of controlled frenzy that just might be challenged only by Santa's Workshop on Christmas Eve.

Another: Pay cash in the men's shop, and your money and a handwritten receipt will get sucked upstairs to the business office through a pneumatic tube - whomp! - hailed as "state-of-the-art" upon installation in 1935.

"I like to say: After a certain period of time things become obsolete, but if you wait a little bit longer they become cool," said Earl Reineman, the store's vice president. "And the pneumatic tubes are really cool."

Marlene Eckel certainly appreciates the atmosphere. She and her sister, Kathleen Sinn, recall shopping at independent department stores throughout their childhood.

After moving around the country for decades - to Michigan, Ohio (twice), Virginia, Florida (twice), Washington, D.C., Phoenix and now Mississippi - Eckel last week made a special trip to Weaver's to reminisce.

And reconnect with something lost during the emergence of megamalls, national chains and Internet retailing.

"These are the kinds of things you don't see at a chain store," the retiree said, browsing in the shoe section and finding some unexpected brands and values. "This is the kind of store we grew up with, back in the day when we used to have fun shopping. Now we're trying to have fun again."

Flannery, Reineman and the rest of their company's 18 shareholders don't plan on the fun coming to an end anytime soon.

"The day after our anniversary celebration is over, we're going to sit down and plan our 200th right then," Reineman said. "By the time it gets here we'll be ready."

Comments

jayneway 7 years, 2 months ago

I go to Weaver's first to find clothes, often b/c there are people to help me!

Kat Christian 7 years, 2 months ago

I go for the perfume - only place in town I buy mine or can find it for that matter. I love the service. And did you know they will delivery if you purchase over the phone. As for the tubes I think all department stores should use this method - it would cut down on robberies because there would be no cash registers full of money to rob. I hope Weavers continue the way they are for another 150 years.

Godot 7 years, 2 months ago

The staff at Weavers are the best. They deliver terrific customer service. Weavers is one of the few shops I patronize downtown. I just wish the store were larger.

canyon_wren 7 years, 2 months ago

I shopped at Weaver's while a KU student in the late 50s. I loved that store and am so pleased to know it is still going strong. What a classy, yet comfortable place it was then and probably still is. You knew you would get your money's worth there, and the clerks were always so nice. Congratulations on a successful 150 years!

Bradley Menze 7 years, 2 months ago

Northtown, your post is an absolute hoot. I don't know if you're serious or not but it was a hoot, only four posts for racism to be mentioned, what a hoot. For the record, Bully for Weavers, I hope they continue to have success.

Tristan Moody 7 years, 2 months ago

I like Weavers, but I typically don't shop there, simply because I don't like what they have to offer in the men's section--most of the offerings there seem really dated to me, but then, they're not often in my price range either.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

My wife says their 150th anniversary sale is sweet after apparel shopping for my mother two days ago.

They have a good selection of housewares on their basement floor as well.

Danielle Brunin 7 years, 2 months ago

I really like shopping at Weavers. It seems like they always have good sales that make them competitive with Kohls and JC Penney's. The clothes definitely look like they are of better quality than those stores. Admittedly, a lot of their women's clothes are kind of old ladyish, but I usually have pretty good luck finding clothes that suit a young person like myself. I hope they are around for a long time!

justthefacts 7 years, 2 months ago

I almost always start looking at Weavers, if only b/c I want to support local merchants. Often, I can't afford their clothing etc. But sometimes, when things go on sale, I score! And as far as them being racist, that is malarky as far as my family is concerned (which includes many minorities). The help is helpful, but not pushy. Congratulations on 150 and I hope we never see the complete demise of home-town owned stores.

riverdrifter 7 years, 2 months ago

Roger Quakenbush sold me just about every suit I've ever bought -save for birthday.

Is Weavers the oldest business establishment in the state?

Bassetlover 7 years, 2 months ago

Congrats and best wishes for another 150 years. Earl Reineman is a class act and a phenomenal manager. He is a huge part of their success and consistently raises the bar for excellence in customer service and quality products.

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