Daily Record April 3, 1995 by John Peterson
“Delzell’s Fashions and Gifts, a retail landmark on the Lawrenceville Courthouse Square for more than 50 years, will close this spring after a liquidation sale, leaving a gap in area fashion tradition that has been nurtured by owner, Ayrol Ann Gibson for three decades.
John Delzell founded the store at 1111 State St. in 1937 as a dry goods business. Gibson bought the store in 1960 and kept the name but gradually phased out the dry and yard goods in favor of women's apparel. Over the years, Delzell’s developed a reputation as a unique clothing store with its own blend of moderate to better selections.
“We don't buy basics,” Gibson said. “We go for the unusual look. You won't see that outfit you just bought, on the street.”
Gibson will begin liquidating her merchandise in a close-out sale this week and then put the building up for sale.
She said after 35 years in the business, it was time to leave.
“I've been here long enough,” Gibson said. “We (husband Cary) love to travel and to sail. We want to get busy and do those things while we still have our health.”
Gibson, who broke her arm in a recent fall, said she cries when thinking about ending the business.
“I could sit and reminisce all day about the wonderful customers and staff we've had over the years,” she said. “Many of our customers have been fiercely loyal. We have people coming from Peoria and Charleston to shop here.”
Gibson was encouraged in her retail career by her father, the late Wendell Boyd, the owner of Pioneer Finance Company, the forerunner of Personal Finance Company. Gibson survived the ups and downs of the business cycle including labor strikes and recession by persistence and adaptation. She beat the extinction of Main Street dry goods stores by switching to apparel and when several area gift shops closed in the 1980s, she added a gift and craft line.
“I guess I was too dumb to know when I should quit,” she said.
“The 1970s were the fat years for retailers,” Gibson said, “while the 1980s could be a struggle.”
During the farm recession of the early 1980s, Delzell’s was hurt by the closing of other retail stores that tended to draw couples to town, especially Dick Fessel’s men’s store, Gibson said.
Gibson suffered personal crises as well. Her son, Boyd Herrin, developed bone cancer in 1979. Gibson was also operating a bed-and-breakfast inn near the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, at the time so she decided to have Boyd hospitalized in Washington, DC. That decision resulted in long absences away from Delzell’s, but her daughter Debbie Holt, was able to step in as manager to keep things running.
“I've been so lucky,” Gibson said. “I love this business. I can't think of anything else I would've rather done.”
Gibson said she checked with a couple of retail colleagues to see if they would be interested in buying the store, but when they declined she decided it would just be s best to close and liquidate.”