File photo by Brian Hagberg.

Pieces of the Past — Blair, Part 2

May 22, 2024

I was in my office at WWCB when a knock on the door derailed my train of thought. “Ron, Rex Rossi is here to see you.”

Rossi grinned at me and said, “Remember I told you that our company didn’t advertise? Well, things have changed!” My Aunt Donna had managed the Blair warehouse outlet and Rex was her assistant. She left the position, and Rex moved up and brought his boss Norm with him. “We’re reaching out to Corry, Jamestown, and Erie, to start with,” Norm said. Blair had experimented with a full-time warehouse outlet for a couple of years in Starbrick and leadership decided to go bigger!

The original outlet was located in a small building on Route 6 that required a limit of no more than 100 people inside at a time. There was an “IN” door on the east end with the “EXIT” door on the west. Racks and racks of clothing crowded into the shopping area. There was a small area set aside for new arrivals. The overstocked issues at both the downtown Warren site and the expanding Irvine facility led to the development of a whole outlet division.

It didn’t take long before it was realized that the facility was inadequate for the mission. Busloads of bargain hunters were making their way to Starbrick. On rainy days there was no place for people to wait their turn to go inside. A much more spacious and inviting location was a must!

The new building would take up a great deal of space. It would include a place for shoppers to rest, restrooms, rooms to try on clothing, and expanded shopping space. Plans included a second-floor suite of offices receiving rooms for incoming items from Irvine and more. The project was so big that water and sewer services in Starbrick could not handle it all. Blair was so committed to the expansion that they built their own sewage treatment plant and water system.

The whole deal took nearly a year but led to a beautiful store the size of most supermarkets. Marketing messages went from selling the Blair clothing to coming to Starbrick to buy. Blair had opened several outlets in other markets. The entire outlet plan made the company a target for major retailers. Not only were returns and overruns being sold but they were bidding on the same things that major retailers were selling. It didn’t take long before major retailers started seeing to it that Blair ran into roadblocks buying inventory. The warehouse outlet was becoming another discount retailer.

There are many things that happen in the boardroom. Blair had gone corporate. Pressure from investors and competition from major retailers led to going back to what gained the company over 12 million customers. I remember sitting in the window of Warren Cycle Shop and watching models on Liberty Street in a photo session. Blair was producing direct mail and online catalogs.

Blair was never afraid to invest in themselves. They needed a massive air conditioning system for the Irvine facility. They had the huge unit flown in by SKYCRANE helicopter. Until I saw the delivery myself I had never seen a chopper so big.

Blair’s presence can still be felt in Warren County. As far as I know, the Blair Museum which my friend Jim McQuiston worked on for over a year, is still there.

Jim also produced a great video that I used to write this. I also did my own research by talking to friends who worked there. The facilities in Warren, Starbrick, and Irvine remain a testimony to what honesty, hard work, and great ideas will lead to.

This is the second part of a 2-part series. Read Part 1 here.

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