Bradley’s Department Store in downtown Delavan is more than just a business venture for new owner Lois Stritt.
It’s a place she can vent her energy and keep herself busy while her heart heals from the recent loss of her husband of 51 years.
“You don’t get over that in a heartbeat,” Stritt said.
Friday morning’s crowd certainly kept Stritt busy. The petite, 73-year-old Stritt worked the cash register for more than an hour before taking a short break to talk to the Gazette.
Simultaneously smiling and wiping tears, Stritt said the store has been a big help in the months since her husband, Jack, died.
“It’s just so sad at home. And I’m so happy here,” Stritt said.
In the weeks before his February death, Jack tried to talk his wife into buying Bradley’s, where she’d worked for eight years. Bradley’s was founded in 1852 and built in its current location in 1887.
Former owners Bill and Diane McKoy put the store up for sale in January.
“I told (Jack) he was crazy,” Lois said. “I told him Bill and Diane were getting out of the business because of their age. Why would I want to get into it?”
Jack told Lois the McKoys were getting out of the retail business because they were tired.
This week, she hosted a grand re-opening. Thursday was one of the best days the store ever has had in sales, Stritt said.
The event lasts through Sunday.
Stritt isn’t the only person who is happy at Bradley’s. A steady stream of shoppers browsed the colorful clothes and accessories Friday morning at the landmark store at 222 E. Walworth Ave.
June Sweet of Whitewater was celebrating her birthday a week early so she and her friends could take advantage of sale prices.
Sweet, a Chicago native, has been a regular at Bradley’s for as long as she can remember. When friends come to visit from Chicago, they won’t leave without a Bradley’s trip, she said.
“They come up from Chicago where you’d think they could get anything,” Sweet said. “But they insist on coming here. I’ll have another carload coming up in a couple weeks.”
Bradley’s offers a variety of clothes that could satisfy the browsing urge of any number of carloads of friends.
In one stop, shoppers can find basic knit shirts and blue jeans not far from evening dresses and handbags. Patriotic T-shirts hang near chunky sweaters that would look right at home on State Street in Madison.
And if you’ve been looking for a lightweight jacket in a newspaper-themed print, one—and only one—hangs on a rack at Bradley’s.
If you don’t want to browse the floral-print quilted jackets, you might enjoy the organic cotton hoodies and capris.
And if you get stuck, Fran Johnson can help. She’s worked at Bradley’s for 35 years. Linda Rayfield has worked there for 30 years and Keri Harris for 20.
Stritt depends on them and other employees to keep the store running the way customers like it.
“I’m the new kid on the block,” she said.