2012-02-07 / Front Page

Pennell’s clothing store now for sale

BY DARREN FISHELL Times Record Staff


PENNELL’S CO-OWNER of 41 years, David Girardin, holds a ledger dating back to May 1889, the year that the Maine Street clothing store opened. According to the ledger, a straw hat costing 20 cents, a bottle of cologne costing 10 cents, and three stamps costing 6 cents were among the first purchases at the store. Girardin said he received the ledger after asking the previous owner, Lawrence Pennell, for proof that the clothing store is the oldest in Brunswick. 
DARREN FISHELL / THE TIMES RECORD PENNELL’S CO-OWNER of 41 years, David Girardin, holds a ledger dating back to May 1889, the year that the Maine Street clothing store opened. According to the ledger, a straw hat costing 20 cents, a bottle of cologne costing 10 cents, and three stamps costing 6 cents were among the first purchases at the store. Girardin said he received the ledger after asking the previous owner, Lawrence Pennell, for proof that the clothing store is the oldest in Brunswick. DARREN FISHELL / THE TIMES RECORD BRUNSWICK

When David Girardin entered Pennell’s clothing store one day in 1971, Lawrence Pennell asked if Girardin wanted a good buy.

Girardin thought that the heir to the Maine Street storefront was talking clothes. He meant the business.

Girardin bought Pennell’s, and it’s been a good fit for more than four decades.

After 41 years of owning and operating Pennell’s — officially, J.W. & O.R. Pennell Inc. — Girardin and co-owner John Simonson are now looking to retire and have put the property and business up for sale.

“We were very, very blessed and had loyal customers who supported us for many years,” said Girardin, who grew up in Brunswick.

Girardin said he has begun advertising the business as the oldest clothing shop in downtown Brunswick. For a while, he didn’t have written proof, until he received from Lawrence Pennell the company’s first sales ledger, which dates back to the store’s opening in May 1889.

Penciled accounts dating back to the store’s first transactions — including the sale of a straw hat for 20 cents and a pack of three postage stamps for 6 cents — can be seen clearly in the ledger.

Founders John William Pennell and Osborne Randall Pennell owned the business from 1889 to 1937, before a new generation took on the store.

Girardin and Simonson have no blood relation to the Pennell family, Girardin said, but with a lifetime in Brunswick and 41 years on Maine Street, they share a deep connection to the town and their clientele.

Girardin still has some reluctance in letting the store go.

“It’s pretty unique, isn’t it?” Girardin said, looking in from the store’s entryway. “It was a big decision, but it was just a matter of time.”

Girardin said he’s seen Maine Street go through many changes — transitioning from a mix of retail clothing stores, hardware stores and pharmacies to restaurants and other service based businesses.

Before buying Pennell’s in 1971, Girardin learned the ropes of retail while working as the manager of the furniture department at W.T. Grant’s Variety Store just down Maine Street.

Stores like Phil’s, McDuff ’s, Robert’s Shoes and Blatt’s Hardware all eventually faded, Girardin said, but Pennell’s stayed in business through transitions from boys’ and men’s clothing to big and tall sizes to work wear and casual winter clothing. Through it all, the storefront and the hardwood floor stayed the same.

“You don’t see anything like this anymore,” Girardin said. “It’s all mall, mall, mall.”

Girardin also said he’s seen changes in the manufacturing of his merchandise, most of which he said was made in the United States when he bought Pennell’s.

Today, Girardin said, a minority of companies manufacture in the U.S. However, some customers, he said, are willing to pay more for American-made goods.

Girardin said that pressure from big retailers makes it tough to compete, but a loyal customer base and providing complementary service for garments purchased at the store have been key to staying ahead.

Girardin also credits the unique character of downtown Brunswick for his store’s endurance.

“I think this is one of the healthiest downtowns in the state of Maine,” Girardin said.

Girardin said that he and Simonson put the business up for sale through the Century 21 Baribeau Agency last week.

“I hope to find a buyer who will continue the business,” Girardin said.

He’s been sharing the news of the sale with loyal customers as they come into the store, but hasn’t reached everyone yet.

“I want to thank them for supporting us for the past 41 years,” Girardin said.

dfishell@timesrecord.com

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