By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff
Carbondale’s signature consignment store, Miser’s Mercantile at 303 Main St., is now a week into a transition, following seizure of the store and its contents by landlord Dale Eubank on Aug. 10. Eubank contends that former owner Sam Hunter owes more than $12,000 in back rent.
Most of the existing employees have been retained and continue to work at the store, according to a statement on Aug. 15 by spokesperson Diane Angelo.
Angelo, who works for Eubank, indicated that there has been no decision about the store’s future management, and she limited her comments about the current operations, saying, “I am handling the paperwork” during the ongoing transition of ownership and management.
She did, however, note that at present, the store is not paying off consignment debts from items sold prior to the ownership change, which she said is the former management’s responsibility.
Beyond that, Angelo said, she and other staff members have been directed to withhold comments to news reporters.
The emotional toll
The changeover at Miser’s Mercantile has an emotional side to it, regardless of the legalities or other formal concerns, said three women who have worked at the store for decades — Hunter, her daughter, Mitzi Braisier, and long time co-worker Aimee Lincicome.
“It morphed into something more than just having a business for me,” said Hunter from her home in Paonia. “It was almost something mystical.”
She and Lincicome both spoke fondly of working at a store that brought in people from all walks of live, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, as one of the few consignment stores in the valley.
The Loading Zone in Glenwood Springs dealt mainly in furniture, Lincicome recalled, and Gracie’s in Aspen was more of a high-end shop for slightly used clothing and household goods.
Miser’s, in its early years, stood alone in offering mainly used clothing at bargain-basement prices, providing a service for whomever felt they had some stuff to get rid of and a desire for some cash in hand.
Miser’s also was an informal gathering place for a widely varied collection of characters, said Lincicome, who started working there soon after Hunter took it over 32 years ago.
Lincicome, 65, had been working at The Loading Zone until it closed, she remembered.
“I still liked the business,” she said, explaining why she was glad when Hunter offered her a job at Miser’s. “It was always fun and interesting, and a little bizarre.”
For one thing, she said, moms and their kids would spend considerable time there, shopping and gossiping, and it became a kind of hub for “a great Latino community” in later years.
As an informal assistant manager, she continued, she would hire women who ran the socio-economic gamut, “from people who needed the job to people who just enjoyed it.”
And for many of the women who worked or shopped there, it was almost like a daycare opportunity, where children often would show up at the store after school, sometimes getting into mischief in different ways.
She recalled one child who tried to steal a toy rifle by putting it down a pants leg, “and there he was, walking with this stiff leg” as he tried to sneak out of the store.
When Lincicome confronted the lad, she said, he quickly confessed his guilt and produced the toy gun, while “his mom and I were trying not to laugh.” She said such incidents were treated as teaching moments rather than crimes, even if the cops were called in to do what they could to scare a kid straight.
Sad moments, happy times
There also were sad moments, Lincicome said, such as when a women brought in “everything she owned for consignment. It was kind of weird. And then a couple of days later she committed suicide.”
On other occasions, she said, it became quickly apparent that someone was hoping to get a little money out of goods that were of rather poor quality, and “you kind of had to be careful … handle things as delicately as you could, to not hurt their feelings.”
There were more than a few wacky moments, such as when a local woman (Lincicome stoutly refused to name any of the subjects of these stories) who came in dressed as Santa Claus one winter and bought “a thousand dollars worth of stuff” that she intended to hand out to family and friends.
And there was one wealthy woman, who Lincicome said owned “a bunch of houses” around the region and the country, who liked to come in a browse through the clothes and other goods.
“She liked soft, worn-in jeans and things,” Lincicome said simply.
A family thing
Braisier, 40, who has taken an assistant-teaching job at a local school following the loss of her manager’s position at Miser’s, recalled that as a young kid she would hang around the store while her mom worked, but that she was not captured by its nature as a community hub until she grew a little older.
But once she actually started working, she said, “My love for it definitely grew,” starting with summertime-only work while she attended Ft. Lewis College in Durango.
Moving up through the store’s hierarchy, she began pricing goods for the shelves, running the cash register, setting up window displays and arranging the shelving, until she found herself with the title of manager.
It wasn’t exactly a career choice, she recalled, as much as a natural progression.
“There’s been times when I thought I might have gone into teaching had Miser’s not been there,” she said, “but I’ve always loved my job.”