Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Art of Good Business

The following story won 2nd prize in the first annual history contest sponsored by the Westbrook Historical Society:

The mills represent a large part of Westbrook’s history, but another part comprises the legacies of local businesses making good for its citizens.  During Westbrook’s earliest days, the businesses of lumbering and blacksmith helped to make the town more inhabitable. It was a time “everything was done by by honest and hard work, a competence was acquired”.  Local made products contributed to successful businesses in Westbrook, but a connection to the community was always a necessary ingredient.

The above image, courtesy of Maine Historical Society, shows two of Westbrook's early Main Street buildings:  the Presumpscot House and the Brigham Block.  This image is from 1880 but later the The Brigham Block would house Porell's and The Men's Shop.
A story about such a connection can be told by hearing about one of Westbrook’s successful, long-term businesses of the twentieth century.  In the 1926 Directory of Westbrook, Gorham and Windham, there amongst the residential listings is the name of a clothing business that was founded only a few years before: The Men’s Shop.  The three proprietors of the business were named as Hormidas Vincent, Auguste Albert, and Emile Thuotte along with its address as 874 Main Street.

The business would later lose a partner but my grandfather, Auguste “Gus” Albert, would remain at its heart and soul until his death in 1982.  Over the years, The Men’s Shop never lost its focus on quality products and personalized customer service.  Certainly, these characteristics held true for other long-term Westbrook businesses as well, such as McLellan's Department Store, or A. H. Benoit Co., where my grandfather worked as a clerk when he was a young boy. 

The legacy of Auguste Albert’s salesmanship and personal connection to his customers was carried on through his son Roland, and later through his grandson Peter.  Of course, there were other major players in the success of The Men’s Shop, but the Alberts may have been the key contributors for turning the business into a culture.  The business acumen of Auguste and Roland were extended to the community with their involvement and leadership in the Westbrook Chamber of Commerce.    Motivated by the pride I felt for my grandfather’s business and his standing in the community, I created a family history blog in his honor called August Legacy.

In May 2010, I was fortunate to sit down with Peter Albert at his home in Westbrook as he reflected on his twenty years of experience with the business.  Three themes that emerged from that conversation could easily be themes that relate the stories of other businesses in Westbrook that proved the test of time.  Quality products, knowing your customers, and adjusting to the changing local economy stood out as factors that led the Men's Shop to serve the residents of Westbrook for seventy-five years.  In describing how the business thrived in the heyday, Peter gave a picture of Westbrook as "a close-knit town, everybody knew everyone, the shops on Main Street were busy, and people supported the downtown businesses".

1. Karen Sherman Ketover (ed.), Fabius M. Ray's Story of Westbrook (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1998), p. 184-185.
2. Portland Directory Company. Directory of Westbrook, Gorham and Windham (Maine). (Portland, Maine: Portland Directory Company/Fred L Tower Companies, 1926), p. 172.

1 comment:

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Congratulations, Craig. Great article! I especially like Peter's three themes. So how true.