I didn't start working at Mary Lester Fabrics until my senior year of high school, but it was a fun job for a girl who sewed. Every month employees got free patterns (promos) and always a discount on fabric. A good portion of every paycheck probably went to fabric purchases. Remember that bumper sticker... "She who dies with the most fabric, wins?" Well, with three women working at a fabric store in our family, we were on our way to winning. The "hold" bin at Mary Lester was always full of irresistible remnants waiting to be purchased with the next paycheck.
The women who worked together at Mary Lester were like family. We knew each other well. There was LuAnn, JoAnn, Bert, Sandy, Doris, Bernie, Mavis, Sylvia, Margaret, Helen, Julie, Debbie... the list goes on and on.
Mary Lester had a diverse clientele because Capitol Court was situated in the old world neighborhoods of Capitol Drive and south. Over the span of Capitol Court's lifetime, the neighborhood deteriorated. Many of my memories working at Mary Lester include theft. People stole a lot of fabric. In the 70s polyester double knit was at the height of popularity. There was a lot of interest in the brighter colors like chartreuse and purple for men's three piece suits sporting wide lapels and bell bottom pants. Guys would come into the store wearing big parkas and slip the double knit off the bolt, fold the heavy unwieldy load under their coat and stroll out the door with enough fabric for several pimpin' cool suits! You could always tell when somebody was on the take - like a lone gopher sticking his head up over the fabric bolts furtively glancing in all directions. That's when we'd casually stroll over and find the need to straighten up the fabrics at nearby tables. It seemed to me that something like indignation rose up inside whenever I realized someone was stealing. Clerks would take risks not otherwise attempted. Once my mom chased a big guy out the door with a feather duster like she was shooing birds using her loudest gravelly voice. The funny thing was - he ran!
After the mall was enclosed, one night late in the evening, I realized there was singing echoing throughout the mall outside the store entrance. I was really mortified when I realized it was my boyfriend and his buddy singing at the top of their lungs in the twangiest southern accented two part harmony, "Cuz lovin' her was easier than anything I'll ever do again." Waylon Jennings would have been proud. Larry and Jerry found the acoustics and my embarrassment irresistible.
As I was digging through patterns the other day, I found a handwritten tribute to Mary Lester Fabrics that I had penned on a piece of broadcloth somewhere around the time I quit in 1979. Here are some of the highlights:
Mary Lester is...
Nine cheerleaders who all want separate checks for their yard and a half of fabric.
A woman speaking no english who wants to return her scraps.
Having Mrs. Williams tell you "Ya don't know nothin'."
A customer who finds a flaw you can't see.
Finding an empty "dandy" bolt board on the floor.
Hearing, "Well, I'll just have to go to Minnesota Mills."
Finding red lipstick on $6.99 white Qiana.
Taking March promos when it's still January.