Furrier and women’s apparel store in Alliance
A young widow’s determination to provide for her children was the impetus for one of Stark County’s oldest and most successful retailers.
For more than 90 years, Lingenfelter-Brill, a furrier and women’s apparel store at 670 W State Street in Alliance has been a staple of Stark County.
The store is managed by Peggy Brill, whose late husband, Keith, was a grandson of founder Katie Brill Lingenfelter.
The story begins in the early part of the 20th century, when Katie Brill became a widowed mother of four in Pittsburgh. She convinced a furrier there to hire her and teach her how to repair fur coats, though being a furrier wasn’t a job traditionally open to women, Peggy Brill said.
In a 2009 video interview, Keith Brill noted that his grandmother not only learned how to run the business, she was likely the first woman furrier east of the Mississippi River.
When Katie Brill came to Alliance to visit a friend, she was introduced to Sherman Lingenfelter, a widower with two adult children. They married in 1926 and bought a large home to accommodate their new blended family.
However, less than two years later, Sherman Lingenfelter died. Because he had not changed his will, his children received his assets, which meant that Katie Brill Lingenfelter had to begin again.
She bought a farmhouse on Main Street. The family closed in the front porch to create retail space, lived on the second floor and rented the attic.
“She opened a small fur-repair shop,” Peggy Brill said, noting that Katie Brill trained her son John—Keith’s father—how to repair furs. John attended Ohio State University to study engineering, but in 1939, he returned to Alliance with his wife, Kathryn, to help his mother run the growing business.
After Lingenfelter-Brill moved to its present site in 1946, it began adding new furs and women’s fashions, Peggy Brill said.
Peggy Brill said that as retail began to change, her husband made a decision in the 1980s to transform their current building by making their store smaller and creating space for other retailers by using glass walls, calling it the Lingenfelter-Brill Centre.
Brill said that although the store still sells, repairs and stores furs, they have tried to be flexible as customers’ tastes have changed. Today, women’s wear and accessories make up the vast majority of their business.
“People are wearing less fur,” she noted. “What we tend to sell now are more versatile garments; reversible jackets and three-quarter-length coats. We still do repairs and storage. But clothes and accessories are where we are, now.”
Brill credits her staff with the store’s enduring success, including longtime employees Jan Dicko, who has worked there for more than 40 years, and Teresa McClelland, who coordinates their fashion shows. None of the Brills’ three adult children works for the business.
“The place wouldn’t run without Jan,” Peggy Brill said with a smile, adding that everyone has a say in what the store carries. “We’re old-school here. We even do our storage certificates with typewriters.”
>> More info: Find Lingenfelter-Brill on Facebook // 330-821-1630 // 670 W State St., Alliance