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Dear Emily

For nearly a year, I have had the opportunity to spend a large amount of time working on “Dear Emily: A Memoir ~ My Life in the Fine Stores”.  At the age of 89, Louise Thomas is a spunky woman of the world, living on her own in her beautiful home and taking on new challenges every day. She was also a trend-setter, paving the way for women in the executive world. Not only was her executive world male-dominated, but it was also largely family operated and almost always enjoyable.

Starting out in the department stores of New York in the 1940s, Louise experienced decades of social and economic change, not only in the evolution and decline of the fabulous shopping world, but in the world as a whole as she traveled across continents as a buyer and eventually for enjoyment.

The following excerpt from her memoir gives a glimpse of the New York department stores at their peak:

One April morning, a well-dressed lady stopped by the handkerchief department to purchase an all-over embroidered linen handkerchief for one dollar, asked to have it gift-wrapped, cashed a check for $100 so that she would have lunch money, and requested to have her full-length black mink coat sent to her Park Avenue address. She would be meeting a friend for lunch at Club 21. The temperature had risen which made her long coat a bother. Every detail was met within minutes, accompanied by a smile and a “thank you”.

Sadly, service like that doesn’t exist anymore. 

Ivey's Department store, Downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, 1924

Another excerpt brings the reader into a world surviving under less security and less scrutiny.


Dear Emily,

I wish you could have been with me on Thursday, January 28, 1965. I did a full day’s work at the office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and then caught an evening flight to Newark and a helicopter to Kennedy airport for an 8 a.m. flight to London. We were scheduled to begin our spring buying trip in Rome, but at the last minute, we were able to switch our destination from Rome to London to attend the funeral of Winston Churchill. 

To the strains of Handel’s “Dead March”, the cortège entered first Parliament Street and on to Whitehall. Here stood hundreds of veterans from the European resistance, French, Belgians, Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians. Their survivors dipped their flags to the man whose voice had brought them hope. Next, the procession passed a house with two outside lights burning, No. 10 Downing St, passed the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square, up Fleet Street headed toward Ludgate Hill where we were fortunate to have front row positions not far from the massive cathedral. Everywhere one looked, there were people and more people all with one purpose—to honor their fallen hero, their protector.

The cortège carried the flag-wrapped casket up the narrow street—no more than five or six feet from us. Behind followed the veil-draped Lady Churchill and her daughter, Sarah. They were riding in the Queen’s carriage on loan from the owners. The creeping carriage stopped immediately in front of us. We could easily have touched the carriage. It was that close. We were a block away from the cathedral.

Louise also gives us an idea of what happened to the glorious days of service:

Dear Emily,

Does it all make sense now? So what really happened to a fine institution, born in Europe, perfected in America, and all but extinct in little more than one century? There is no simple answer.

Louise’s account of her life in the fine stores, speckled with tales of her adventurous travel and insights into business, history, and day-to-day life during the past eighty years is presented as letters and pictures to her lifelong friend Emily. I encourage readers to settle in for a trip into the past as they read Dear Emily: A Memoir ~ My Life in the Fine Stores. I’m glad I took the trip. I now have memories of Louise and the fine stores that I will never forget.

See also: Woman Writes of How She Did it Her Way in Heyday of Downtown Business

~Tracy Beltran is the Administrator for Second Wind Publishing. She also writes as Claire Collins and her books, Fate and Destiny,  and Images of Betrayal are available from http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, as well as a variety of e-book applications, Amazon, and Kindle.  Grab a copy of Louise’s Dear Emily while you’re there.

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