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Pioneer Revamps Ahead of Centennial

Penny Murphy, owner and presidentPALM BEACH, FLA. - Longtime high-end specialty home furnishings boutique Pioneer Linens is counting the days until February 2012 when it will be celebrating its hard-earned centennial.
     Preparations are in the works for the Feb. 6 festivities, which Pioneer Linens is planning in conjunction with the city as one of the area's oldest still-in-business storefronts.
     "We just redid the store's façade," Penny Murphy, the third-generation family business' owner and president of Pioneer Linens, told HTT. "I wanted to give the store a fresh look and bring it up to date."
     The last time it was "really fi xed up" was some time in 1980s, she recalled, "so we wanted to refresh it give it almost a 50s fl air."
     The next phase of the store revamp project is set for this summer and tackles the selling fl oor. Plans are still in development, but are expected to include some merchandise shifts, Murphy offered.
     "Already, we've moved the table linens to the front of the store. They had been in the back, but they've become more important to our customer," she continued. Among the headliner brands in the category are Sferra Bros., Yves  Delorme and, more recently, and expanded offering of Matouk's easy-care fine linens and designer Kim Seybert's contemporary wares.
     "I would say that we have been working really hard to build up our table linen business because Palm Beach definitely entertains," Murphy noted. "In Palm Beach, people want to play golf, entertain, so they may be living a more causal life. We sell a lot of coverlets, but more informal looks like white lightweight pique styles. We also sell a lot with monogramming and embellishments."
     Also in store for summer repairs is repainting and cleaning up the presentation "for a more unifi ed décor. I am hoping I will be able to achieve that, and I'm working with a designer to make it happen."
     Pioneer Linens' journey over the past almost-100 years has had its ups and downs for the four-generation family-operated retail shop - especially in recent years when Murphy inherited the reins at a less-than illustrious economic time.
     "We feel [our centennial] is a great accomplishment because statistics say most family businesses don't make it past the second generation, plus we've been fortunate enough to survive the recession in 2008. We're still here," she told HTT during a recent interview. "I feel like we are really lucky to have our loyal customers. I've learned that they are the ones who continued to come and purchase from us and allowed us to keep going in these diffi - cult economic times."
     Murphy, the granddaughter of Pioneer Linens' late founder, Max Greenberg, also cited "a couple of other things that made this happen."
    She gives much credit to her father, George Greenberg, who she described as "an incredibly dynamic person" who helped teach her the ropes of the family business despite her lack of experience in her early career.
     "When I was growing up I had no intention of doing this. I was a kindergarten teacher. I was working for a little school downtown when my dad recruited me in 1994 to do all of the marketing and PR [public relations] for the store," she explained. "It was a fl exible schedule for me. At that time, my kids were all at home, and working for him provided me a fl exible schedule to both work and be a mom."
     It was her family's traditional Sunday night dinners that largely provided Murphy the know-how to become president and owner - posts she assumed in August 2007 when her father passed away.
     "Sunday night was family night - we would always have a family dinner. So my children grew up very close to my family because all of us are here in West Palm Beach. And at these family dinners, somehow the conversation would always turn to the store and we'd all discuss business," Murphy recalled. "As that saying goes [roughly], the most I learned about business was at the family dinner table."
     Now almost four years into her commanding roles, Murphy recalls her early days at the helm as "a diffi cult time."
     She said she had two matters "going on in my head: The fi rst was that I was the first woman to run this business. My grandfather, Max, was the fi rst and my father, George, was the second. Secondly, I was walking into this from an educational background. I didn't have a business degree. My dad had done this all of his life, but there were so many things that were just innate to him. Luckily, he was a good teacher."
     She admits that there have been "some meat-and-potatoes stuff about this business that I've been learning as time goes by. But I was really overwhelmed mostly because all of this came to be as the recession started to happen."
     In its earlier years, Pioneer Linens was "a destination store in our downtown area," Murphy said. More than half a century ago, the store's retail neighbors included heavyweights Burdines, Belk, JCPenney and others. Tough times came in the 1960s, when a new retail concept emerged and "there was a flight to the malls," she continued, leaving specialty shops like Pioneer Linens looking for inventive ways to retain and attract customers.
     One critical move that second owner, George, made was to purchase a property across the street from Pioneer Linens and set up a parking lot for its shoppers.
     "I don't think we could have survived if he had not done that," Murphy acknowledged. "We staff it during store hours to help our customers carry packages and watch their cars. It's a complimentary service we offer."
More struggles came in the 1970s and persisted somewhat into the 80s.
     But as the economy took a turn for the better in the 90s, "fi nally, business started to come back," she said. "Through all these changes we were able to make a comeback."
    Giving her the support she needs, professionally and emotionally, are Murphy's three children - who together represent Pioneer Linens' fourth generation helping run this family operation.
     As her father had done with her, Murphy is exposing her own brood to the business.
     "My kids worked here in high school, and at home they helped me out with different projects for the store," she said. "They were always involved with me in the business, one way or another."
     Her oldest child, Alan, "really wanted to get involved," working at the store all through college. Today, he runs Pioneer Linens' rapidly growing yacht division. Murphy's middle child, Marissa, is in charge of the store's internet and online program. And the youngest, Camille, is director of marketing and advertising.
     "My girls seem to really like what they are doing, and because they each have their own niche they don't step on each other's toes," Murphy noted. "I'm really lucky to have them all with me here."

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