- Outdoor Guide
- Memorial Day
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By Anne Pyburn Craig
8/15/12 - 11:30 am
8/15/12 - 11:30 am
Above: Stephanie Carter, in front of a longtime Delhi staple, Stewart's. Photo by Mellisa Misner.
A town with a practical and well-appointed dry goods store is a fortunate place, and for 129 years, Delhi has had a gem. During those long decades, the establishment changed hands only twice – once in 1926, when Chauncey Stewart purchased it from founder Aaron Stern, and again in 1966, when Chauncey handed the business over to his son, George. Blogger Ross Gill's 2008 profile of George as community icon describes a gentleman's gentleman, conducting business according to the Golden Rule and confident in his ability to provide a quality of experience no WalMart could ever match.
The lovely Italianate structure at 85-87 Main Street attracted a lot of interest when it went up for sale last spring. Stephanie Carter, the proprietor of Steinway Books and its in-store Blue Bee Cafe, put in the winning offer.
What does a well-traveled bookstore owner intend to do with a classic vintage haberdashery? Well, it seems likely that Chauncey would be extremely pleased.
Watershed Post: So what are you putting in there?
SC: I'm keeping the store intact. I bought it with everything – all the fine old wood and glass display cases, every last fixture. I was never interested in just the building. I had a cloing in June and we were open again by the end of the month. I hired back the amazing women who work there – one for a decade and the other for 20 years.
It's a major part of Delhi, a fixture that everyone counts on. Quite a few people wanted it and tried to get it – people who wanted to sell off the fixtures and do something different with the space. Well, the fixtures are a thousand times as valuable staying right where they are. The place is a gem. It's a total period piece, a time machine.
My plan is to whittle down the inventory a bit, to give us room to do some interior work – so, from now through August, people will be finding some absolutely fantastic deals. There's a lot of inventory, maybe not all the newest, but quality items. So we're having a very big sale, after which we'll close for one month to restore the floors, expose the original ceiling, restore the lighting fixtures- just refresh the place, not remodel it.
WP: And when you reopen, what will people find?
SC: I'm continuing the apparel, that's what the community counts on – jeans, Woolrich, work and outdoor clothing. I am planning to expand the options, mix up the brands a little bit – not get all crazy and carry everything from every line or anything, but build on our strengths, make it even more interesting.
Outdoor wear, for example, is definitely something younger people need and want and this is a college town, which is a market that is barely even addressed here. Those people are not being sold to. I believe it's possible and desirable to keep the tradition, provide the things the community needs and also be wildly successful.
WP: People say nice things about the bookstore and the Blue Bee.
SC: Thanks. Used books are a tough business, but I love it. And I love Delhi. I lived in New York and Boston, but I'm a country girl, and this has felt like home. I've had my house here for fifteen years, the bookstore for five and the cafe for two.
What I'm learning is, when what you offer is unique enough and really excellent, it creates its own market and thrives. Stewart's has always been about that, too. I'm just keeping it going.
WP: So I imagine the Stewart family is happy that you're doing this?
SC: Oh yeah, they are, which is lovely. They're a wonderful family and I'm very fond of them all. We're going to create an area in the store with exhibits about the history of the store and the family and the building.
Below: A slideshow of photos of Stewart's by Flickr user Carolyn Simmons of West Laurens, NY, a regular Watershed Post Flickr pool contributor who uses the handle JuneNY. Note the old-school fixtures, including wood cases and red-topped stools.
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