LEE — Family-run since the Great Depression, Ben's will remain a mom-and-pop shop.
Tracy and Sean Stephen of Stockbridge have bought the downtown footwear and apparel store from Marcia and Jane Slaminsky, whose father and uncle opened the retail operation at 68 Main St. in 1932. The recently completed sale also included the building with four fully-occupied apartments on the upper two floors. The couple didn't disclose the purchase price for the mixed use property through Stone House Properties. Originally, only the business was for sale, last listed at $395,000, according to the real estate firm's website. The brick facade with a rustic interior, clothing, shoe and boot inventory and personal customer service remain unchanged, according to the husband-and-wife entrepreneurship.
The Stephens believe it's important to maintain what the customers expect from Ben's.
"It's really a great year-round business ... that the community relies on," Tracy Stephen said.
Loyal Ben's customer Nancy Nirenberg from Lenox was pleased to learn of the new owners status quo approach when she stopped by the store on Friday afternoon.
"Are you going to rename it?" she asked the Stephens.
"No," Sean said.
"Good," replied Nirenberg.
"We're not going to change a thing," added Tracy.
The Stephens bring a varied retail resume to the local economy with Sean having worked for Brooks Brothers and both were once employed by Orvis, the outdoor/sportsmen clothier. Tracy will continue her other day job of overseeing the marketing of merchandise for National Geographic in Washington, D.C.
Sean is getting back into retail after several years as a special education teacher and, so far, the honeymoon continues with the Ben's clientele.
"They are patient with me and understand my ignorance," he quipped.
The Stephens do have help from oldest daughter Molly, Bridget is their youngest, and they have retained the Slaminsky sisters' part-time employee.
The couple are working to bring in the latest styles of trusted brands Ben's customers have come to expect Carhartt, Levi's Dansko and Timberland. The store hours will also remain 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Two weeks into ownership, the Stephens say their heads are still spinning learning the ropes of running a bricks-and-mortar retail operation.
"This is the 20th box I've [unpacked] in two days — they are finally all empty," Sean said of the incoming inventory.
Ben's is the second long-established Main Street business to exchange hands in 2016. In May, Vern Kennedy from Canaan, N.Y., bought the 163-year-old Morgan House Restaurant & Inn from Pamela and James Loring — who like the Slaminskys — were looking to retire.
The Stephens felt the time was right for them to join in downtown Lee's economic revival that began eight years ago. Despite the Great Recession that included all but one of the town's remaining paper mills closing in 2008 putting nearly 200 people out of work, Tracy Stephens sees how locals and visitors alike are drawn to the downtown.
"You really can spend a lot of time window shopping," she said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233