John Thompson selects a customer's card out of a thick roster. Photo by Laura Wenus

You have seen the signs outside Marian’s for months. “Store closing!” they blare to passerby on Mission Street, now through the bars of a sliding gate. Once a vibrant clothing store, Marian’s has closed – but not without leaving behind a rich history.

Andrew Thompson, nursed the store along on its deathbed after 63 years in business. He and his brother-in-law, Joel Anker, oversaw the sales, the signs, the clearing of the men’s department (in the left-hand side of the building, nearly separated from the women’s side). But perhaps more importantly, they kept greeting customers.

The register at Marian’s ringing up some of its last sales. Photo by Laura Wenus

“It’s going to be sad. You get a personal relationship with all your customers,” Thompson said.

Everything in the store was a reminder of its past. Thompson still rings people up on a mechanical register with loud keys and numbers on plastic decals that flick into place to show the total. He keeps track of hundreds of customer accounts in a thick roster of heavy yellow paper – and he’s tracking their accounts because Marian’s has always offered a credit system for people who may not qualify for cards from a bank.

“We built our business on seeing each of these customers come in and make payments every month,” he said.

The in-store system was even set up to handle cashing customers’ paychecks, he said.

Andrew Thompson selects a customer’s card out of a thick roster. Photo by Laura Wenus

Now that the store is closed, the business will continue to accept payments to a post office box. During its last month of operations, some customers still trickled in to have a look at the odd gown or pantsuit, while others came to put $20 toward their debt.

Irene Munoz has chosen a different way to pay her debts – and her respects – to the venerable shop with the fading pastel countertops.

“Over 20 years ago I used to live on the corner. I didn’t have credit, but I’d stop by” says Irene Munoz. Because of the in-store credit system, Munoz could select an item or two of clothing from time to time to wear to church or special occasions. In its last days, Munoz came by the store to help customers out to work off her debt.

“I’m going to miss not being able to come to Marian’s anymore,” she said.

But Munoz is part of a disappearing breed. Thompson said his customers have been passing away or moving out of the area, which depleted business. The popularity of cheaper alternatives like Ross and Costco didn’t help either.

In better times, Thompson estimated, more than 100 customers came in every day. Shortly before its closure, Marian’s would be lucky if it saw 20 in a day.

“People certainly are always looking for a deal…There’s nothing you can do about it, people are buying online,” Thompson said. “We can sometimes buy clothing from competitors cheaper than they offer wholesale.”

In its heyday, the store employed a union staff of between 8 and 10 salespeople. It was part of the formidable Mission Merchants Association, which at that time offered discounts to shoppers who collected stamps from member businesses when they made purchases there.

Thompson still had the booklet, weathered and yellowed, behind the counter.

“We’re a bastion of old school, no doubt,” he said.

A Mission Merchants savings stamp booklet. Photo by Laura Wenus

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