The two, who finish each other's sentences, want no less than to get downtown merchants working together, for the common good.
Their first "event" is extended shopping hours downtown. So far, 24 merchants have signed on, and will remain open Friday nights until 8 p.m. betwen Nov. 30 and Dec. 21, and on Sundays, between noon and 4 p.m., between Dec. 2 and Dec. 23.
This may not sound like much to the uninitiated, but efforts to get our independent merchants working in tandem have failed before. Many times.
"We're optimistic and positive," says Mary. "And when we're not, we call each other," says Dorothy. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
"This is the first time we've ever done a combined effort, and promoted it," says Dorothy, who opened Molly MaGruder in 2001. "There's power in numbers."
Adds Mary, who opened Copacetic three years later, "We wanted specifically to target retail stores; there's already something for restaurants, for the arts. Well, we're the third leg of downtown."
Yes, Racine already has Gallery Night for the art galleries. Says Mary, "Downtown has become known as a destination for art. Well, wait a minute! What about all the retailers?!"
"We decided it was time to help ourselves," Dorothy chimes in.
So the two hand-delivered invitations to 28 downtown retailers, inviting them all to a meeting to plan an event. Eighteen came, and eventually 24 ponied up financial support and agreed to participate. Posters will go up soon; flyers will be handed out at the Holiday Parade; advertising has been bought in Kenosha's Gift Guide. ("They gave us the best price. And, anyway, we need to reach people out of town.")
"The people from Kenosha say our downtown is wonderful," says Dorothy. "They wish their downtown was as good as ours." Says Mary, "The people from Chicago, this is their playground!"
Both note that the most successful downtown event ever, Party on the Pavement, was a grassroots effort, initiated (so the legend goes) by a suggestion made by Mayor Gary Becker at Ivanhoe's one night, soon after the two-year paving nightmare ended: "Let's have a party and close the street," he is recalled saying.
"Well, we're grassroots, too," says Mary. "All these stores are being operated by families; nobody's driving BMW's." Says Dorothy, "There's a feeling of being connected, because everyone is in the same financial condition."
There's a third major helper, too, Joanne LaBre of Dover Flag and Map Co. "She's the big sister of downtown," say Mary and Dorothy. And indeed, there Joanne was Friday morning, on her knees clearing out a paper jam in her copier and printing flyers to let people know of the extended hours.
Dorothy and Mary still need to work out the details. But they're getting the important stuff right.
Good reason to be optimistic.
Both women and their stores have interesting back stories:
Molly MaGruder's: Dorothy Ward's lilting English accent is a tip-off she's not from around here. Her connection with Racine began when she was 9 years old, and began corresponding with a penpal from Racine. That friendship lasted, and the penpals finally met in England when both girls were 18. By 1976, Dorothy and her husband decided to move to the U.S. (his first choice was Australia, but she vetoed it), and they came to Racine a couple of years later, stayed for half a dozen years, went back to England ... and then decided to return to Racine for good, with their daughter Laurie.
When she decided to open a store downtown, "We wracked our brains, 'what are we going to name our store?' Well, we had a Golden Retriever named Molly, and we used to call her Molly MaGruder. My son-in-law finally came up with the idea to give that name to the store."
Copacetic: Mary Osterman was building a house in Jasper, IN, when she went out one night with some girlfriends and ran into Monte Osterman, who was visiting his brother in Jasper. She mentioned her house under construction; he mentioned his countertop company in Racine, Osterman Granite and Marble. "It was love at first sight," Mary says.
Their store came about because Monte "always wanted to buy a hat, it was his pipe dream" but could never find them. Then they came across the "Life is Good" line, and ran with it. "We wanted to name the store "Life is Good," but that wasn't possible. "So we turned to the thesaurus, where we found copacetic." Which means ... well, you could look it up.
Extended hours participants:
Art Metals Studio
Artistry Furniture Gallery
Dover Flag & Map
Funky Hannah's Beads
Greens & Goods
Hot Shop Glass
Main Street General Store
Martha Merrell's Bookstore
Moxie Child Children's Boutique
Plumb Gold Ltd.
Racine Art Museum Store