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Retail industry is 'good therapy' for sales associate

December 30, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Despite many changes in the retail industry, serving customers remains "good therapy" for the longest-serving sales associate at The Bon Ton in Hagerstown.

"I enjoy it. I just like being around people," said Jane Dehart, 83, who was recently honored for 40 years of service at the department store, formerly known as Eyerly's.

Eyerly's in 1948 became part of the S. Grumbacher and Son chain that has traded under the name of The Bon Ton since 1898. Eyerly's department stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were renamed The Bon Ton/Eyerly's in 1985. Eyerly's was eventually dropped from the chain's name.

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When Dehart started working at the Eyerly's in downtown Hagerstown in 1952, "Mr. Grumbacher still had his office in the basement," she said.

Dehart and the store's other sales associates used a tube system for their transactions, writing sales slips manually and sending them with customers' payments through tubes - much like those used today in bank drive-through lanes - from each of the store's five floors to the basement accounting department.

One cashier handled all the store's sales transactions, said Dehart, who worked in accounts payable for about 10 years.

Sales associates in every department today ring up their own sales using the sophisticated cash registers that once intimidated Dehart and other veteran salespeople, she said.

An elevator attendant greeted customers at Eyerly's when Dehart worked in the store's china, linens and ready-to-wear departments in the early part of her career, she said.

Downtown Hagerstown was the shopping mecca decades ago, before shopping malls and strip plazas popped up around the county, Dehart said. Eyerly's left downtown when Valley Mall opened in 1974.

"It was called the 'Hub City' and it was a hub," she said.

Customers and sales associates turned out to Eyerly's - which only stayed open past 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights - in their best apparel, Dehart said. Unlike the casual attire that employees and customers commonly wear in department stores today, Eyerly's patrons and workers decades ago wore hats, dresses and gloves, suits and ties, she said.

Dehart remembers a more "family-oriented" workplace, where all the employees knew each other and shared a "camaraderie that we don't have now because of the employee turnover."

Eyerly's offered a free delivery service and "approval system," which enabled customers to try out merchandise for a short time before purchasing it, Dehart said.

The department store was always packed the first Tuesday of each month for "Suburban Day," which featured big sales targeted at out-of-town shoppers.

"They always said if somebody would faint they couldn't fall down because it was so crowded," Dehart said. "Sales weren't as common then as they are today. When we had a sale, you really knew you were getting a bargain."

The "hectic" holidays haven't changed much in the past 40 years, but Dehart's wages have, she said.

"That's gotten better. I used to make $2 an hour," Dehart said.

She continues to work 20 hours a week in the men's department at The Bon Ton in Valley Mall despite a deal with her daughter, Becky Brown, to join her in retirement because Dehart says the work keeps her young and active.

"I think I'd be bored if I didn't work," she said.

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