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Lillian Vernon celebrates 50 years

In 1951, using her kitchen table as an office and $2,000 of her wedding gift money, a pregnant housewife offered personalized purses and belts through an ad in the September issue of Seventeen magazine.

Thirty-two thousand dollars of orders resulted, and the Lillian Vernon business was born.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Lillian Vernon Corporation has sales of more than $287 million and eight catalog titles, 15 outlet stores as well as a business-to-business division. Last year, the company mailed 165 million catalogs in 33 editions. During its peak season, the company employs 5,300 people.

Vernon continues to head her company, and is one of the longest-serving ceos in America. "After 50 years," she said, "free personalization continues to be our company trademark, and our mission remains to help our customers live better for less."

In addition to its corporate offices here, which has that original yellow formica kitchen table on display, the company also has a one-million-square-foot distribution and warehouse center in Virginia and a buying and quality control office in Italy.

To celebrate its anniversary, Lillian Vernon has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a deserving family in Virginia. In addition, artifacts highlighting the company's history will be placed in a time capsule that will be buried in the company's distribution center. A lifelong philanthropist, Vernon recently donated toys for the children of the victims of the World Trade Center attack and funds for the rescue workers.

Next month the company will launch its updated sites, www.lillianvernon.com and www.ruedefrance.com, in time for the holiday season. More than 2,200 new, exclusive products have been developed for its line of 6,000 products, Vernon said, which are sourced from America and 35 other countries. She added that the company has a new gift certificate program and the catalogs have also been updated with new logos.

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