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Saperstein’s: The Store That Time Forgot (Thankfully)

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Lew Saperstein is a hand-on, old-school merchant

If you’re old enough to remember when Jimmy Carter was president, then you probably remember shopping for Levi’s and Duofold long underwear at a store like Saperstein’s. One of the mainstays of Millerton’s Main Street, the store is anticipating, counterintuitively, a robust holiday season. “I am pretty optimistic about Christmas” says owner Lou Saperstein, whose father opened the original Saperstein’s down the block in 1946. “I sell basic merchandise. When the economy turns downward, people will buy necessities as gifts rather than gadgets and toys.”

The shelves and racks at Saperstein’s are literally overflowing with essentials such as flannel shirts (“in sportweight, heavyweight, tall and XXL sizes”), workboots and New Balance sneakers, American-made ragg wool socks and gloves, rain ponchos and traditional yellow slickers. You can find Cub Scout and Girl Scout uniforms as well as flannel nightgowns, mittens, boys’ blue blazers and clip-on ties.“I have a lot of inventory because otherwise people will go somewhere else or shop online,” says Saperstein, who volunteers that he will gladly special-order any item from his regular suppliers. “I carry lots of hard-to-find sizes like jeans with a 36 inch length or a 60-inch waist.”

Rural Intelligence StyleSaperstein’s is an egalitarian emporium: “I treat everyone the same—the guys who cut grass for a living and the Hollywood stars who shop here but whose names I won’t name.”  While no-nonsense Carhart work clothes are his best-selling brand (“You won’t flannel-lined jeans for a better price than $39.95,” he swears), Saperstein has mixed in some more upscale items (Muck Boots and Merrells) to keep up with Millerton’s gentrification. Neverthelessl, the soul of Saperstein’s is its old-fashioned values. Customers with modest means can buy Christmas gifts on layaway with ten percent down and pay weekly installments. “Certain people don’t have credit or don’t want to use credit,” he says empathetically.

Saperstein personally orders every item in the store and monitors sales as he restocks the shelves. “My inventory is not computerized,” he says. “I count everything myself and that is how I know how much to order next year.”  However, Saperstein does rely on a computer to place many of his orders. “Levis used to send three different salesmen to visit me and now they send none,” he says. “We order through the Internet or 800 numbers.”

Rural Intelligence Style Saperstein’s loyal employees (such as 20-year veteran Barbara Snyder, left, who was his childhood babysitter) think of Lew as their Santa Claus. He provides them with health insurance and a pension plan. “I am interested in their welfare and they are interested in mine,” he says pragmatically. “They stay with me for a long time which makes my life easier. I can rely on them. They point me in the right direction about what merchandise to buy.”  Is there a secret to the store’s longevity in the Wal-Mart era? “Customer service, good products at a fair price—that’s my niche,” he says. Yes, Saperstein’s is a time capsule— would you want it any other way?

41 Main Street, Millerton; 518.789.3365
Monday - Saturday 9 AM - 6 PM; Sunday 10 AM - 3 PM

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 11/06/08 at 05:36 AM • Permalink