Locals reminisce about how Wilson’s touched, changed their lives

  • Ruth McDonald’s daughter poses years ago in front of a Christmas tree wearing a holiday dress her mother bought her at Wilson’s Department Store in Greenfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Ruth McDonald’s daughter sits with Santa at Wilson’s Department Store several years ago. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Ruth McDonald with her daughter, nieces and Santa at Wilson’s Department Store several years ago. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2019 11:06:21 PM

GREENFIELD — Ninety-six-year-old Virginia Kelleher sat in Wilson’s Beauty Salon Friday at noon for her last wash and set there, reminiscing about how when she was 17 years old, she and her friends would go to downtown Greenfield to window shop and get their hair done during their lunch hour.

“I worked in the office at Miller Falls Tool Co.,” she said.

Kelleher said she first started going to Hazel’s Hair Salon on Federal Street, and when it was sold to International Hair Design, she met Mariette Poginy, who moved to Wilson’s in 1990.

“The first time I met her, I asked her what she could do with my hair,” Kelleher said. “She told me it was over-permed and over-colored. She told me she would keep trimming my hair until all of the mistakes were gone. I stayed with her all these years.”

Kelleher said when she heard about Wilson’s closing, she was distressed, thinking Poginy would retire.

“I figured I’d have to find another place,” she said. “Mariette has been so good to me, she has actually come to my kitchen in the past, and she came to the nursing home when I had to have rehab. But, she’s going to find another place.”

Doria Cotter, the other stylist who is retiring when the store closes, said she has been working in the beauty salon since 1986.

“I’m going to miss the friendly atmosphere,” she said.

Cotter said the salon once had 13 hairdressers and 12 stations, and most were full at any hour of the day. But, over the past several years, Cotter and Poginy, the only two left, did hair by appointment only. There are still hints of what the salon used to be, including pink hues on some of the walls, furniture and rug, but no one sits at the empty reception desk or in the waiting room, and it has been like that for a while, the two stylists said.

Rebecca (Skibiski) Morgan of Los Angeles, Calif., said at 16 years old, her only job experience had consisted of picking cucumbers — not a skill most employers were looking for, which she learned when she tried to get retail jobs. But when she applied to Wilson’s Department Store and got an interview with Ruth McLaughlin, who ran the personnel office, she had high hopes for getting a job there.

“Things were going great until she asked me the question I had come to fear about my retail experience,” Morgan said. “I broke down in tears and said, ‘I don’t have any, and I’m not sure how I can get some when no one will give me a chance.’”

She said McLaughlin handed her a tissue and hired her, saying, “Good. I’m glad you don’t have retail experience. We are going to teach you Wilson’s way and not have to worry about bad habits others may have taught you.”

Morgan said she worked for Wilson’s for three years during high school and while she attended Greenfield Community College.

“Being given that opportunity resonated with me deeply over the years after I left Wilson’s,” Morgan said. “As I grew in my career to the point where it was my job to hire new candidates, I found myself remembering Mrs. McLaughlin’s advice. It was at Wilson’s I found my passion for helping and serving others that led to more than 20 years with the Walt Disney Co.”

Ruth E. McDonald wrote to the Greenfield Recorder saying she always loved Wilson’s.

“When I was younger, I had a paper route and delivered the newspaper to Dillon Chevrolet,” McDonald said. “Once in a while, when I had some money saved, I would walk to Wilson’s so that I could buy a treat from the candy shop inside. I loved picking candy from the display counter — it felt so fancy.”

She said she also used to love walking through Wilson’s art gallery.

McDonald’s children fell in love with the local department store, as well. She said they loved playing with the train set while she shopped in the toy department, and both children loved riding the elevator.

“I knew Wilson’s was unique, and I wanted to support the store and its history in the area,” McDonald said.

At Christmastime, she would bring her daughter to the store, dress her in a Christmas dress she bought there and have a photo taken with Santa.

“The store never disappointed,” she said. “We really have been fortunate to have a store like Wilson’s in our town.”

Eleanor Small, of South Hadley, wrote that although she lives “a distance” from Greenfield, she has always appreciated shopping at Wilson’s.

“It had so many fine features, and it was comforting to visit,” she said. “There are no more of those traditional department stores left.”

She said the unhurried atmosphere, service and the merchandise made Wilson’s one of her favorite places to shop — an era now lost with the store’s closing.

“Too bad the closing is taking place now, with the holiday rush upon us,” she said. “If it were another time, we would have a bit more time to adjust to letting go.”

Reach Anita Fritz at
772-0261, ext. 269, or
afritz@recorder.com.




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