CIRCLEVILLE — In celebration of more than 75 years in business, Sharffs is having a party next week to celebrate the store’s history and employees.
Earl Sharff founded the Circleville Sharffs 75 years ago and it’s moved locations a few time since then. He previously had a store in Logan, Ohio.
Doug Baker, owner, is in his 45th year at Sharffs, joining in 1976 before buying into the business and eventually exchanging ownership in Circleville to buy Logan and Athens stores before returning to buy back ownership in the Circleville store.
Baker shared the history of the store, which started in 1946 in its first location next to The Savings Bank location in the 100 block North Court Street. Sharff then bought the building at 106 West Main Street, where the store stayed until around 1984 before moving to their current location.
“An interesting part of our history is in the early 1970s, we wanted to have a separate junior store from Sharffs; we wanted to cater to a high school girl or college woman,” he said.
“Debby Jenkins was working for us at the time and she came up with the idea for this shop and putting it together. The store was called ‘The Other Place.’ That is currently where Maggie and Me is.
What was unique was that it was decided to facilitate easy shopping for mom and her daughter to make a hallway and connect the two stores. For that time period, mom could be in Sharffs and her daughter could be in the other place where they each had their own shop.
It was very successful.”
In the 1980s, another store was opened, called the First Lady, which Baker said catered to more mature customers.
“It was managed by Betty Regen who was a long-time manager of Sharffs and she took over responsibility of getting that store going and off its feet,” he said. “She was responsible for its success.”
Baker said when they moved to the current store, they combined all three into one location.
“We really had outgrown the 106 West Main Street location, so we decide to move it and The Other Place into this location under one roof to give us more space to operate and increase our inventory,” he said. “Then, the 106 location became The First Lady.”
Sharff, Regen, Gerri Hannahs, Robert Sutton, Diana Gaugh, Betty Branham, Patty Barthelmas, Debbie Jenkins, William Sharff and Mark Sharff were some of the people mentioned by Baker who were instrumental over the years.
“There are a lot of key people who contributed to Sharffs’ success, really too many to fully list, but they all have played a crucial part in Sharffs’ longevity,” he said.
At this point in the store’s life and his career, Baker is now seeing the generations come and go.
“Part of the charm of a small business is that you get to see the mom that becomes the grandmother and the daughter that became the mother and then we see their children come and shop in the store,” he said.
“You get to know the names of people, which is the beauty of a small business. You learn your customers’ names and their loyalty is what keeps us going and sustains us, the customers that continue to shop with us.”
Baker said they’ve received tremendous support from the community, including the employees who have worked there.
“I think what has sustained the longevity is the employees who have managed the stores on a daily basis,” he said. “Two of our managers served over 50 years and the current manager has served over 25 years. It’s those people who make the connections with the customers, given them the service they wanted and kept us going.”
Baker said in today’s environment, things are rapidly changing with technology and the popularity of online shopping and it has an effect on physical stores.
“You’re always faced with new challenges and hurdles and you just figure out how to adapt and continue to do business,” he said. “We’ve managed to do that, but it is hard work.”
However, Baker said there’s always one thing that’s true of the clothing business — if you can buy the right item and the customers like the items enough, then you’ve got what you need.
“You bought the right merchandise and it appealed to a customer that wanted to own it and wear it,” he said. “It may sound basic, but you have to buy the right item for the customer that comes through the door and you do that right more than you don’t, you’ll be successful.”
When it comes to that decision, Baker said it comes with experience and knowing your clients.
“To be a successful buyer, you have to know what your customer wants and we’ve been able to do that correctly more often than not,” he said.
Baker also talked about the Pumpkin Show and how it’s a key component to the stores success.
“It’s like having two Christmases,” he said. “The timing is good for the Pumpkin Show because it’s normally the first change in the season. It allows you to begin to sell fall clothing.
The anticipation of the people for the Pumpkin Show is unique and it puts electricity in the air as it approaches. After living here for many years, it’s a different feeling when it gets close. In some communities, downtown events can sometimes be a hindrance to business, but the Pumpkin Show is one of our biggest weeks of the year and is comparable to a build-up to Christmas.
The number of people who come back to shop is amazing. We’re on the list of things for people to do when they come back to Circleville.”
Baker said they’ve operated a t-shirt booth outside their store since 1976 when he started, but these days, it’s just not in the cards.
“Two years ago, I decided because of my age that I had done enough t-shirt booths for Pumpkin Show, it can be quite exhausting as I’m not a young man anymore. So I started setting up a booth inside the store to continue the sell shirts with our new design each year.”
The party to celebrate Sharffs’ history in Circleville is set for Oct. 7 and will kick off when the store opens that day with a free gift for the first 75 people and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Baker said they have invited former employees back to celebrate in the success of the business.
“We normally have an eight- or nine-day anniversary event that we kick it off with a special party,” Baker said.
“We’re going to have a light lunch and refreshments and invite as many past employees to come in and reminisce and share the event with us. I consider this a momentous occasion; 75 years is tough to do in the retail business.”