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  • Gardner Store Marks 80 Years
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Phyllis Lakin finds success through caring

By Damien Fisher - Gardner News Staff Writer

women in business

GARDNER — There’s a good reason Lakin’s Children’s Fine Apparel has been a mainstay in Gardner’s downtown.

“The reason for the store being here at age 80 is destiny,” said owner Phyllis Lakin. “It’s love and it’s destiny.”

The family business, started by Ida and Leo Lakin in the summer of 1935, has managed to afloat in good times and bad because of the care and appreciation Ms. Lakin and her parents have for the community.

“Having a business means you have to care,” she said.

Ms. Lakin learned the business from her parents, who were in the store every day. Her mother died in 1986, leaving her father to run the store. When Leo Lakin broke his leg at age 100, Ms. Lakin left her successful career in Boston at Harvard Medical School to come home and help her father run the shop. When he passed away a few years later, Ms. Lakin kept the store going, honoring their memory and emulating their style. The biggest lesson she learned from them was adopting the Golden Rule to her life.

“You have to treat people the way you would like to be treated,” she said.

It may not be a conventional business plan, but the guiding principals taught to her by her parents have helped Ms. Lakin run the shop and lead her life. First is among the ideals passed down by her parents is building relationships with her customers.

When she was new to running the shop on her own in the late 1990s/early 2000, she started hearing from her customers in the fall that they may not be able to afford holiday shopping that year. Turmoil in the Middle East was causing oil prices to spike, and many of Ms. Lakin’s customers were worried about their heating bills for the coming winter.

“I knew I had to do something,” she said.

That year, Ms. Lakin decided to set up a clearance section in her store, with 40 to 80 percent discounts to give her customers some financial relief heading into the tough winter. The section was a hit, and she decided to keep it.

“It made people happy,” she said.

Ms. Lakin has found her success, not in the profit margin, but in the happiness she’s able to share with her customers, many who have become her dear friends over the years. It may not be practical, but it is good business for the store and the spirit.

“It’s a great compliment to us as a business that people want to shop with us,” she said.

Though her success might seem to come from an unusual angle, Ms. Lakin said the love and care she has for the business and her customers is something everyone thinking about starting a business needs to adopt to succeed. There are no half measures in business, or in life.

“You better be passionate and loving about what you’re going to do,” she said.

Legacy of love - Store celebrates 80 years in city

By DAMIEN FISHER, The Gardner News, July 2015

80 years in business

GARDNER — When Ida and Leo Lakin opened their children’s clothing store in the summer of 1935, they were doing more than just starting a business.

“This is a true labor of love,” said their daughter, Phyllis Lakin. “This is all about the heart.”

Walking into Lakin’s Children’s Fine Apparel, you won’t see Ida or Leo. Not at first. Their portraits hang over the high entrance as you walk in, as though they are still looking over the shop.

The store has stood the test of time persevering in Gardner’s downtown through the boom years when the furniture factories were in full swing, through the lean years as the city weathered hard times. Ms. Lakin said that the store’s continuation is a testament to her parents, and the lessons they taught her.

Both Ida and Leo had a lot of experience in the clothing business before they even met. Leo was running a men’s clothing store in Worcester with his brothers when he went on a blind date with Ida, a buyer for the women’s wear department of a prestigious department store called The Outlet Company. The couple soon got married, and within weeks they started their clothing store for children.

The store started out at 66 Main Street before moving to its current location at 68 Parker Street in 1945. Every day, Ida and Leo worked in the store together, creating a thriving business, and much more. When Phyllis came, they brought her into the store too. She learned to crawl on the wood floors, and she learned from her parent’s example.

“They taught me how to be a good human being,” she said. “I was blessed.”

Gardner was different when Ms. Lakin grew up, watching the vibrant down town life from her parent’s store. The years when the furniture mills were operating created a boom for the city and the many down town stores.

“It was the Chair City of the world,” she said.

She remembers going out with her father to the drug store lunch counter, getting a hotdog and ice cream and feeling like “the queen of the universe.” She also remembers growing up in a store where she felt she could have anything she wanted.

“I thought this place was my private paradise,” she said.

She also remembers than many other business owners who were her “aunts” and “uncles.”

“I remember how incredibly exciting the downtown was,” she said. “I’m a true daughter of the down town.”

All of the downtown merchants were like a family, she said. Though there were several clothing stores in town, the competition was friendly, and the merchants were more than happy to held each other out if it meant helping the customer first.

“It was all about customer convenience,” she said.

That’s part of the same spirit that animates the store today. Ms. Lakin makes sure her customers are comfortable, and have a good time when they visit the store. Today, she’s outfitting the great, great grandchildren of some of the original customers.

“I have made some of the most fabulous friendships with people who have come through those doors as customers,” she said.

The friendship, the caring, and the outpouring of love are the real lessons she learned watching her parents run the store, Ms. Lakin said. Their strength and togetherness day in and day out made the store someplace special.

Ida Lakin passed away in 1986, leaving Leo to run the store by himself. He did that until he was almost 100. A fall and a broken leg brought Phyllis Lakin back to Gardner after she had established a career in Boston at Harvard Medical School.

Phyllis Lakin thought she would help out for a bit, and then go back to her job in Boston. Instead, she and her father stayed on in the store for a few years. And then six months before he passed at 103, Phyllis Lakin told him she wanted to keep the store going, and to keep the spirit Leo and Ida created going too.

As a young girl, a girl who grew up privileged, her mother sat her down one day and explained a very important lesson.

“You know, you may be an only child, but you are not all there is,” Ida Lakin told her daughter.

Phyllis would be loved, as a child should be by her parents, and she would have privileges and special treats, but her mother wanted her to know there was more to life. There are other people in the world, and love should be shared. That is the spirit of the store started by Ida and Leo, and that is the spirit that Phyllis keeps alive in the store her parents still watch over.

Women in Business, 
by Damien Fisher - The Gardner News - October, 2014

women in business

GARDNER — A local landmark and the city’s oldest retail store, Lakin’s is getting ready to celebrate its 80th anniversary next year.

Owner Phyllis Lakin said her parents Ida and Leo Lakin open the children’s clothing store in June of 1935. Both Ida and Leo had a lot of experience in the clothing business. Leo was running a men’s clothing store in Worcester with his brothers when he went on a blind date with Ida, a buyer for the women’s wear department of an outlet company.

“The men’s department married the women’s department, and they started the children’s department,” Lakin said.

The store started out at 66 Main Street before moving to its current location at 68 Parker Street in 1945.

Ms. Lakin brings her family’s love for the business with her everyday when she opens the shop. She wants to make sure customers have a memorable experience when the come to shop at her store.

“I want you to love what you buy, and I want you to be happy,” she said.

As a little girl, Phyllis Lakin wanted to one-day take over the store. She grew up playing in the shop and wanted to stay, but her father made sure she got an education. Instead of going into the family business, Phyllis Lakin had a career medical researcher at Harvard Medical School.

As the years went by, Phyllis remained at Harvardand her father stayed in Gardner running the shop. Ida Lakin passed away in 1986, and Leo Lakin ran the store by himself. At almost 100-years-old, Leo Lakin fell and broke his leg. Phyllis then came home to care for her father and keep the shop going.

“I did not want the store to pass away before he did,” she said.

She nursed her father back to health, and he went back to work until he was 102, this time working with his daughter by his side. It was more than the business she wanted to continue, but the spirit of her family, a spirit of love and kindness.

“The watchwords are love, and loyalty,” she said.

Building and continuing the business, keeping it successful in the age of large retailers and Internet shopping, comes from a place of love and understanding both of the clothing and the people. Ms. Lakin said she has generations of customers who come back to the store because they know they will be treated with love and kindness.

“I want you to have a nice experience, and I want to remember you enjoyed yourself,” she said.

That can mean making special orders for customers, but Ms. Lakin prefers to have as much merchandise in stock as she can while staying a small, independent shop. She wants customers to be able to and touch the cloths, try them on before making any kind of purchase.

“It’s about getting to know the merchandise,” she said. “I want you to see as much as you possibly can.”

The store is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays Fridays and Saturdays the store is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. On Thursday’s the store stays open from 9:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. The store is also open by appointment on Sundays and other days as needed by customers.

The phone number is (978) 632-1699. The store’s website can be found at

Gardner Store Marks 80 Years 
By Peter Jasinski - Sentinel and Enterprise, July 2015

Phyllis Lakin, of Lakin’s Children’s Fine Apparel in Gardner, is celebrating the family store’s 80th anniversary this year. 		SENTINEL &Phyllis Lakin, of Lakin's Children's Fine Apparel in Gardner, is celebrating the family store's 80th anniversary this year. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green 

GARDNER - Downtown Gardner isn't what it used to be.

Quiet sidewalks border storefronts in a seemingly constant flux, with stores coming and going sometimes before people even know about them.

For the better part of a century, change has touched every business in the downtown area with the exception of one.

This month, Lakin's Children's Fine Apparel on Parker Street is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

After Leo Lakin and Ida Gollis got married in June 1935, they opened their business, which offers children's clothes and accessories, the following month. After a move from it's original Gardner address, Lakin's as it stands today has been at 68 Parker St. in Gardner since 1945.

The store sells children’s clothing and accessories.Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.The store sells children's clothing and accessories. 

"These were two people who were very much in love and welcomed being together 24/7," said Phyllis Lakin, daughter of Leo and Ida and current owner of the store.

Before the marriage, Ida worked in women's clothing retail in Providence while Leo was running a store with his brothers in Worcester. As Lakin explained it, "The upshot is men's ware met women's ware, got married, and opened children's ware."

She describes her mother and father as having been a loving pair dedicated both to their business and to her. Leo was a towering 6 feet 6 inches and never left home unless he was dressed in a sharp suit. Lakin describes her mother, Ida, as having been a woman ahead of her time, majoring in mathematical studies during her college years.

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