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'Pillar of High Street' remembered

'Pillar of High Street' remembered

June 21st, 2018 by Philip Joens in Local News

Lorraine Mercurio poses in in the downtown Jefferson City Saffees store. Mercurio died Monday at age 92.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

To Lorraine Mercurio's friends, she will always be the Pillar of High Street.

From the time she took over Saffees Fashions from her parents in 1961 until her death this month, Mercurio held an unwavering love for her work and her store.

"She never left this store," Mercurio's daughter Judy Howard said. "She built it from the ground up."

After a 1961 fire destroyed the building at 227 E. High St., where Saffees sat, Mercurio rebuilt the business at her parents' instance. Mercurio died Monday at the age of 92 from what Howard and her sister Marie Adrian described as old age.

Mercurio's parents, Samuel and Salaf Saffee, started the store in 1923. As Mercurio and her husband, Thomas, rebuilt the business in the early 1960s, it grew up around their five young children.

The couple stored clothes in the basement of their house. On Christmas, the family usually spent the afternoon marking down items by hand.

"Everybody had to help develop this business," Howard said. "Mom and Dad didn't realize they were teaching us this business before we ever got into it."

Mercurio's husband kept track of sales and ordered inventory, but she always served as the face of the store. At the time, Saffees faced much stiffer competition from retailers downtown. Many, like JCPenney, moved to the Capital Mall after its construction in 1978. Mercurio never moved Saffees because her family owned their building.

"We like supporting downtown," Adrian said.

During her 57 years in the fashion industry, Mercurio saw trends evolve like a revolving door that always came back around. Jumpsuits for adults came into style in the 1970s then went out of style then back in style. Short shorts of the late '70s went out of style then came back into style twice as new generations rediscovered old trends.

Through the years, Saffees also evolved to keep up with trends and technology. Eventually, the store began monitoring inventory and prices using one computer system, then a better computer system. At various points, the store sold wigs, perfumes, cosmetics and lingerie.

"That's how fashion works," Howard said. "As these trends changed, we changed with the trends."

Saffees became a rock for Mercurio and the community throughout the years. Adrian and Howard said Mercurio gained a reputation for giving women entry-level jobs that led to bigger and better careers elsewhere.

Mercurio's husband died in 2009. During the past five years, she tried to stay active in the business, even as her health deteriorated and prevented her from walking. On June 9, she made her last trip to the store when she watched surveillance camera footage with her daughters.

Adrian, 62, and Howard, 63, manage seven retail stores in Missouri and Kansas, including four Saffees stores, along with two of their three other siblings.

Adrian said Mercurio touched three to four generations of Jefferson City families with her work. Howard added her mother developed an intimate relationship with her clients as she dressed them for some of their most vulnerable movements of their lives like weddings, baptisms and graduations.

"When you do that, you become part of their lives," Howard said.

See also:

Obituary: Lorraine Saffee Mercurio


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