A positive attitude, independent spirit, strong work ethic and a willingness to take risks have helped cancer survivor Linda Lester achieve her dream of owning her own store, The Etc. Shop.
Lester was raised by her aunt and uncle in Wichita.
“Aunt Ellen taught me to sew and take care of others,” she says. “Uncle Ed gave me a weekly allowance and taught me to budget. He also taught me woodcarving and metal soldering.”
Although she completed enough credits to enroll at Kansas University by the time she was 16, Lester decided to specialize in making her own jewelry after high school graduation.
“I sold my jewelry to friends and local businesses and dreamed of owning my own ‘cute little store’ one day,” she says.
The dream was interrupted when Lester met Wichita University student Robert on a blind date.
“It was love at first sight,” she admits.
They married in 1961 and moved to Texas with Robert’s bank job. Despite surgeries for breast and ovarian cancer within seven years, Lester had three children and moved to Lawrence in 1976. Once her youngest child went to college, she set aside earnings from her jewelry sales and wood refinishing jobs to achieve her dream.
In 1980, during a coffee break with a friend at Mass St. Deli, she announced it was time to open her store. Despite her friend’s cautions, Lester went in search of premises.
“We walked down the alleyway behind the deli and saw a vacant free-standing wooden hut across Ninth Street That was it!” she recalls.
“I discovered Judge Mike Elwell was handling the lease for the trustees, so I went straight to the courthouse to make inquiries. He told me the city planned to demolish the hut in five years. I told him if I hadn’t made it by then I’d never make it, and signed the lease.”
Her friend joined the enterprise. They opened as Linda and Linda and sold antique jewelry, shirts, sunglasses and Halloween costumes. The city demolished the store two years later to create the parking lot, her friend Linda moved away, and Lester moved to new premises at 732 Mass. She opened as The Etc. Shop, carried Brighton leather and jewelry products, and added a formalwear section.
Lester continued to expand the business, became a Brighton Heart store (awarded to stores who carry Brighton goods and give excellent customer service) and moved to her present location at 928 Mass. Despite suffering further breast and lung cancer complications, she increased business, purchased the building in 1991 and helped establish the Lawrence Downtown Association.
“I just kept going,” she says.
She also helped take care of her ailing mother-in-law and her aunt Ellen in her Lawrence home until they died.
“It’s what you do for family,” she says.
Recent surgeries and ongoing chemotherapy didn’t stop her from traveling to Hong Kong in March with a Brighton Heart contingent, and she’s in her store every day.
“Each day is new and a great gift, and I keep a good attitude,” she says.