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'Masterpiece of a Store' Will Close Its Doors : Quigley's: For 37 years, it sold "all the bingles and bangles, the little nitty- gritty things no one else wanted to sell."

April 12, 1990|KAREN E. KLEIN | Klein is a Monrovia free-lance writer

Customers at Quigley's department store in Sherman Oaks are fighting over the last pairs of cotton socks and stocking up on pink plastic key chains.

Neighbors are stopping by to mourn the final days of the venerable five-and-dime store with the cadre of white-haired sales ladies who have worked at Quigley's for three decades.

"This place is like a shrine," said store manager Ralph Geibelson, taking a break on a recent Thursday morning. "It's like the end of an era."

For 37 years, Quigley's survived on the corner of Riverside Drive and Fulton Avenue by selling "all the bingles and bangles, the little nitty-gritty things no one else wanted to sell," Geibelson said.

But this weekend, Roger J. Quigley, son of store founder Roger B. Quigley, will swing the heavy glass doors shut for the last time. He lost his lease to a new strip shopping center.

"I'm going to miss this store," said Marge Wolf, who has lived around the corner from Quigley's since it opened in 1953.

"Lord, I know there was never a week went by that I wasn't in here for something," said longtime Sherman Oaks resident Mary Gale Holland. "There were notions, makeup, the best cards in the world, toys--I bought all my Christmas toys here--cotton socks, underwear, nuts and bolts, hardware, paint."

She paused to survey the crowds lining up at cash registers and the aisles strewn with the last pieces of merchandise. "It was a masterpiece of a store, really. I don't know what I'm going to do without it."

For 37 years, the staff prided itself on the slogan, "If you can't find it any place else, Quigley's has it."

Crowding the display shelves are can opener covers, nose plugs, hairnets, nine kinds of drapery hooks, wedding gown patterns, gift boxes in 15 sizes and shapes, felt squares, spray paint, watches and scarf rings.

On Valentine's day, the Quigley's staff would write your sweetheart's name in icing on a chocolate heart. If you needed a door key made, or wanted to buy contact paper by the yard, you went to Quigley's.

Even if you didn't need anything, you'd find something at Quigley's.

"We were a service store. We cut window shades, made keys, gift-wrapped anything. We took care of everybody, everybody knew everybody, it was like a small-town store," Geibelson said.

"We never disappointed a customer unless she was maybe looking for purple polka dots on a yellow ribbon. And we even might have had that too," he said.

That kind of customer service, however, contributed to Quigley's demise. Geibelson said that variety stores can no longer compete with multipurpose supermarkets and huge drug stores that carry standard items prepackaged in groups of three or a dozen.

"People like to grovel around and feel stuff, you know, socks and stuff. Now they can't do that anymore, it's all packaged," Geibelson said.

Competition from supermarkets was non-existent when Roger B. Quigley opened his own store during the Depression on the corner of Sunset and Fairfax in Hollywood. "Basic merchandise at a reasonable price" was his slogan when he retired from Woolworth's and opened the first Quigley's in 1936.

It was the heyday of the dime store and Quigley did well for himself and his family, eventually owning a chain of nine Quigley's in Southern California. The Sherman Oaks location is the last of the family-owned stores.

Another Quigley's survives, at the Seal Beach Leisure World retirement village, but it was sold last year to the store manager.

Roger J. Quigley said that the Sherman Oaks location has survived the longest because of its employees. "We let them do the buying and run their own departments, with supervision. We valued the employees' input because they knew the customers wanted a cotton sock, not a cotton-blend sock."

Socks have been clerk Eva Weise's specialty at the Sherman Oaks store. Now 78, Weise has worked at Quigley's since the day in 1960 when she saw a help-wanted sign in the window. Her husband had just died and she had never held a job in her life.

But she went inside. Thirty years later she's still there.

"I had the baby department and the ready-to-wear department," she said. "People wanted the basics they couldn't get anywhere else, like the Buster Brown cotton socks. I started with a little tiny counter and I wound up with a 20-foot counter."

During those 30 years, times certainly changed. But the merchandise inside Quigley's didn't. Shopping there, you'd never know that jeans went designer and hem lengths went up and down. Or that babies went chic with Oshkosh.

Weise's departments were like a time warp. "We carried baby shoes, little dresses, hats, diapers, everything that a baby needed," she said.

In the ladies' section, she sold slacks, blouses, bras, bathing suits and bandannas. "We were big on women's muumuus and house dresses," Geibelson said. "We never went in for fancy things."

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