Silver’s, 1982

August 22, 1982

Silver’s, at 1303 Jefferson St. in Duluth in this view from August 1982, gives little clue it’s anything but a private home. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

Silver’s: Super chic store in different setting

By Sandy Battin, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

Silver’s is so exclusive, women tell each other in hushed tones, that you have to call in advance and make an appointment to shop there.

And you can’t just walk inside – you must be introduced by someone who’s been a customer for years, they say knowingly.

Ellie Lindgren, manager of the women’s clothing shop at 1303 Jefferson St., laughs when she hears such talk.

“Maybe they think that’s true because a lot of our customers will call in first and say, ‘Ellie, what’s the best time to come in?’ A lot just don’t like to waste time waiting,” she said.

Or perhaps it’s because they – or their mothers – still remember when the late Ida Silver started her business back in the late 1930s. “She sold the clothes in her apartment, open by appointment in the evenings,” Lindgren said.

The Silver’s mystique has also been fed by the fact that the business neither advertises nor shouts out its presence with an outdoor sign. A small, simple and tasteful engraved nameplate on the door is the only indication that the former carriage house across the street from the Armory is more than an ordinary home.

Those aren’t the only differences about shopping at Silver’s. Gather your curiosity and your courage and go inside.

Mabel Sonju and her daughter, Phlaine Johnson of Two Harbors, relax in the parlor while Ellie Lindgren shows them a blouse. The rack means a special sale is on. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

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Entry is through a room that seems more parlor than place of business. A love seat nestles comfortably behind a pair of small Oriental-style tables just right for serving coffee. Classic prints from Vogue magazines adorn the papered wall.

Mirrored shelves and an old-fashioned dressing table display such things as ceramic pitchers, jade jewelry and woolen scarves. Most unusual, there are jars of jam from England and special vinegars imported from France.

The atmosphere is warm. Customers are greeted by name and with a hug. Coffee and cookies are served and customers stop to admire what Lindgren is wearing, perhaps ask how they’d look in a similar belt or jacket.

Customers are invited into one of the special fitting rooms, a private place furnished with full-length mirrors, an old Chinese chest and a matching lacquered chair. Prints from Godey’s Lady’s Book, Victorian America’s fashion arbiter, set the scene. In elegant luxury, the salesclerk brings clothing she believes will suit and delight you. No racks are in sight anywhere except when a special sale is under way a few times a year.

It’s an atmosphere and a service not found much anymore – even in fashion centers such as New York. “It’s almost like something out of the past,” Lindgren said. “People say it’s quaint, unusual, different.”

Mabel Sonju of London Road in Duluth prepares to try on clothing Ellie Lindgren has selected just for her. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

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If you’ve been a customer for long, chances are Lindgren knows just what you’re looking for. “Each item is picked to suit a special customer’s needs,” Lindgren said. When she flies to New York, Chicago or Houston on a buying trip, Lindgren keeps each of her regular customers in mind. She may buy a dress in one’s favorite color or another in a style that suits someone else.

Such a dress will be the only one to be sold in Duluth. “The dresses in the couture lines we don’t duplicate,” said Wilson Thompson, who has owned the shop for eight years.

Alterations make sure the items fit. “You can change a dress one whole size down or one size up. … Few people are a perfect size 8. We weren’t all stamped out of the same mold,” Lindgren explained.

Lindgren prides herself on knowing her customers’ figures and what will look good on them. “No matter where you buy your clothes, if they don’t fit they’re no good,” she said. “If one of your shoulders is lower than the other, we’ll put in a shoulder pad. If one hip is higher, we’ll let the hem down a little on that side. We … alter their clothes according to their figures.

“Help (store employees) is not something that changes every month,” she said. “That’s why they’re able to give the special service.

“How many times have you been dressed and pampered?”

Ellie Lindgren, manager of Silver’s in Duluth, shows off some of the clothing in stock. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

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Some women fly in from Oklahoma, Texas or Minneapolis just to shop Silver’s. Another woman has a selection of clothing sent to her in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Clothing is from such designers as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Adelle Simpson and “lots of silk from China,” Lindgren said.

Each piece of clothing is registered with a description at the shop. “We’ve had people with fires, thefts and so forth,” Thompson said, “and we’re able to tell them what they paid for it.”

Lindgren likes to describe the clothing Silver’s sells as unique. “We sell some classics, but also the unusual, the different, the extraordinary, the elegant.”

“But things are not so high-style that they’re not usable,” added Thompson. “A lot of people have the mistaken opinion that we’re high priced. I think we have a price for everyone. Maybe we won’t have a $39 dress but, in the intermediate range, we’d have something for $69.”

The difference is also that Silver’s urges women to try clothes they might have believed they could never look and feel good in. “We dare to do something a little bit out of the ordinary,” Lindgren said. “When you pay $200 for an outfit you want something that’s a little daring. … Everybody likes to be feminine and young-looking.

“You want, when you come into a room, for there to be an intake of breath.”

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A sign in the window of Silver’s Dress Shop, 1123 E. Superior St., says it has temporarily closed on January 15, 2001.(Bob King / News Tribune)

At some point after 1982, Silver’s moved to the big mansion at 1123 E. Superior St. – one of the houses threatened with demolition as Walgreens wants to build a new store on the site. Efforts are under way to move and save the mansion.

Silver’s shows up again in the archives in late 2000 and early 2001, as its inventory was seized to be auctioned off by the IRS to pay off federal tax liens in excess of $300,000.

Emily Hanson, 19, of Duluth, expresses her delight with the fit and style of this long, black formal dress at Silver Rose in June 2001. Emily was shopping for a dress with her mom, Pat. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)

In June 2001, the store reopened at the Superior Street location under new ownership as Silver Rose. While it’s no longer in operation on Superior Street, I think the business continues today in Cloquet – correct me if I’m wrong.

And as for the carriage house on Jefferson Street that house Silver’s for so many years, it’s gone – does anyone know when it was torn down? The National Bank of Commerce now occupies the site.

Share your memories of Silver’s by posting a comment.

3 Responses

  1. Linda McLain Samarzia

    When I was a junior at UMD and struggling to meet expenses, my uncle, who was a bartender at a new and very classy restaurant called The Bellows on London Road, suggested I meet the owner and apply for a job as the weekend evening hostess. I somehow charmed the owner (whose name escapes me), but I realized I couldn’t take the job because I didn’t have the chic wardrobe he wanted me to wear for work. Instead of bidding me farewell, this most generous man set me up with an appointment at Silver’s (I had never heard of the place) and when I arrived, the owner selected two outfits for me which he paid for in full. I do not believe I have been so well-treated nor enjoyed “shopping” as much in the forty plus years since! It is true that the staff at Silver’s really made the customer feel extraordinarily special.

  2. A few more tidbits I picked up over on PDD

    The house at 1123 E Superior Street was built in 1900 by Louis & Cecelia Loeb. He was in real estate with his brother. At one time in late 1920s it was the home of the Roman Catholic bishop.
    Loeb later moved east to Lester Park and donated some of his land to Sam Snively for the building of Seven Bridges Road (or perhaps Skyline Parkway). He was also a founding board member of the Northern National Bank.

    After the IRS seizure in 2001, the sales manager, Rosa Johnson, started it up again under the name Silver Rose. She opened a second location in Cloquet and then closed her Duluth store.

    The old Walgreens stands on the site of the first home Guilford Hartley built in Duluth–and the first Duluth home to have a telephone. The family had the house destroyed so it would not be subdivided into apartments.

  3. Great work Andrew…thank you.
    I sure wish I had a better memory.
    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my great grandmother worked as a housekeeper for the Silver family for many years, most of them when I was too young to remember much detail now.
    I was surprised to see that someone named Wilson Thompson actually owned the store in 1982. I wonder if he bought both the Jefferson St store and the family home on Superior St.
    That would be the only way that I can think of that the shop would have moved into the Superior St location.

    The date of this article is interesting too. According to the cemetery records, both Arthur and Ida Silver passed away in 1982.
    Adas Israel Chevra Fadisha Cemetery
    Silver Ida Oreck 04/21/1898 – 01/17/1982
    Silver Arthur A 03/05/1902 – 06/13/1982

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