FAMILY SPIRIT PREVAILS
Lakin's daughter takes over the store
By Mary Jo Hill
March 25, 2001
age 18, Phyllis E. Lakin left her hometown of Gardner and went
off to college.
It was the start
of her life in Boston, where she got involved in theater, sang
professionally, and reveled in the good shopping. She also worked
as the manager of a research laboratory at Harvard Medical School.
For 34 years, Ms. Lakin was immersed in the culture of big city
was the only child of Leo and Ida Lakin, a couple who came to
Gardner in 1935 to open a children's clothing shop. The family
business took root in the community and has never let go.
Still, their daughter never was
expected to take over the store.
Knowing that shopping malls gave
specialty stores an uncertain future, at best, she said, her parents
wanted her to go off to college and have a career. But several
years ago, life took a turn that led her back home.
Today, she is
the one ringing up sales and designing store windows at Lakin's.
The story of Lakin's started with
the marriage of a man with a high school education and a love
for literature and a young woman who had majored in math at Radcliffe
College in Cambridge.
Mr. Lakin's family had run a dry-goods
store in Southbridge. In the early 1920's, he opened Lakin Brothers,
a men's clothing store, in Webster Square in Worcester, his daughter
Mrs. Lakin, after her education
at Radcliffe, specialized in women's wear and she met her future
husband on a blind date.
Children's specialty shops were
becoming chic, so shortly after their wedding, the couple moved
to Gardner and opened a new store.
Ms. Lakin said she had a wonderful
childhood and her parents were very much in love. Up until the
end of 1985, Mrs. Lakin worked in the store with her husband,
but she had a heart condition and died the following year at age
Ms. Lakin said she spent vacations
with her mother at the end of her life. After her mother died,
she said, she began coming to Gardner on weekends to be with her
When Mr. Lakin broke his hip several
years later and could not be there for the store's 59th sidewalk
sale, Ms. Lakin offered to step in.
She said she was exhilarated by
the work, a situation that left her father happily amazed. She
and three friends kept the store open during the months he recuperated.
Then, late in 1997, when Lakin's
was about to start its holiday season, the busiest time of the
year, Mr. Lakin broke his leg.
Ms. Lakin had some experience running
the business and felt in her gut that it was the right thing to
do. "I knew this is where I belonged," she said.
She took a leave of absence from
Harvard and began working in Gardner. At the same time, she became
an advocate for her father in his medical care.
In the years since, Ms. Lakin has
stocked more merchandise and added cheerful paintings of storybook
characters. She started a campaign featuring young customers wearing
outfits from Lakin's.
Intellectualism was less important
in this line of work, while fun and emotion took center stage,
Mr. Lakin eventually recovered
from his broken leg, but went into respiratory distress and died
Feb. 23 at the age of 102.
Today, at age 55, Ms. Lakin has
retired from Harvard and taken over Lakin's.
"The store is here and I'm here
with it," she said. "This is more than a business. It is the spirit
of my family."