By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The sign posted in the window of Fran’s Second Hand Store states the future clearly and lures passersby with the promise of steep discounts on all merchandise. After more than 35 years in business, store owner Fran Lawrence has decided to retire.
Truth is, she’s ready to travel and there’s little time to waste.
“I just decided I didn’t want to go to work anymore,” Lawrence said recently while listening to classical music behind the counter. “There’s other things I would like to do. I have travel plans, for starters.”
The Caribbean tops her list of destinations for winter travel, and rightfully so. Outside the corner store on Woody and Pine streets, the dull Missoula daylight lacks the focus to melt the ice and snow coating the city’s streets.
But inside the shop, Montana Public Radio warms the morning with classical music, and Lawrence embraces the day with the ease of someone eager to write a new chapter. She first opened her business on the 100 block of West Alder Street in 1980, back when Mount St. Helens blew its top and Mark Chapman shot John Lennon outside his New York apartment.
While the 1980s brought big hair and Ronald Reagan, it also brought Lawrence closer to the current location of Fran’s Second Hand Store and Stuff. She purchased the property in 1992 and spent the last 14 year giving life’s obscurities a second chance.
Today, there’s a tin of Sauer’s dill seed on the counter and a selection of cassette tapes. Analog stereo equipment, speakers, coolers and woven baskets line the shelves. The retirement discount applies to all of it.
“It’s something I always liked – recycling, used items and repurposing,” said Lawrence. “The people have been the best part of it.”
Lawrence hasn’t gone it alone. On another recent day, her dedicated assistant, Sherri Lierman, considered the store’s final hours and the memories made with each new customer. She first met Lawrence at the University of Montana, guessing it was 1966.
“I like people and I’ve known (Lawrence) for a long time,” said Lierman. “When I retired from photography, I came to work here.”
Lierman is in the mood to reminisce about the store’s history, which takes her to a shelf over the cash register. She pulls down a music disk recorded by the Snake River Outlaws in 1957. The group used to play at Fran’s when it was home to the Sunshine Bar.
This block of Missoula, located a stone’s throw from Railroad Street West and its brick-lined passage, has sat far enough off the beaten path to lean toward the gritty side.
But times are changing. Nancy and David Tyrell are converting the former downtown Poverello Center into high-end condos. The Montana Distillery, which opened next to Fran’s last year, is pushing the district toward trendy.
The customers have changed through the years as well. Lierman recalled a man who walked in off the street and slapped $80 on the counter. He had stolen a pair of boots the day before and couldn’t live with the guilt.
He had returned to pay his debt.
“This has been like the melting pot of Missoula,” Lierman said of the store, which closes any day. “You get people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic levels. There’s just tons of memories.”