Chapel Hill woman starts new era, sans Dillard’s

tgrubb@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 

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Long-time Dillard's saleswoman Gloria Brown, left, gets a big thank you Feb. 4 from former 20-year customer Karen Haley of Chapel Hill. Brown, who worked nearly 23 years in retail at Dillard’s at University Mall retired when the Chapel Hill Dillard’s closed in mid-January.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— There were no parties or farewell speeches when Gloria Brown retired after 23 years as Dillard’s Polo specialist at University Mall.

She could have followed many of her 30-plus co-workers to Dillard’s stores in Raleigh, Cary or Burlington, but it was just too far, Brown said. She left when the store closed Jan. 15.

“I think I would have hung around a little longer, because I enjoyed it,” she said

It’s the people she misses most, said Brown, 84. Last week, she got to say goodbye to some of them on a visit to University Mall.

Chapel Hill resident Karen Healy, who bought clothes from Brown for the last 20 years, was excited to find out how she’s doing. She never got the chance to say goodbye to a woman who meant so much to so many people, Healy said.

“When I was in here talking to you one time, little kids were running up and hugging your leg,” she told Brown. “It’s not just the adults.”

Brown was good at her job, too. For 16 years, she sold more than $350,000 worth of merchandise, earning her the store’s coveted Pacesetter title.

As a specialist, she became a expert on the Polo product line and others, attending out-of-town seminars in the early years to see the new fashions, she said. The perks got cut eventually, but the store still did well, she said.

Her priority now is getting organized at home, she said. She also enjoys crossword puzzles, buying them by the bookload, and checking in with friends on Facebook. She plans to visit with family scattered around the country.

Born during the Great Depression in Leonia, N.J., Brown attended secretarial school and started working for NBC at the landmark 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. It was fun, because everything was live in the early 1950s, she said.

“We could go and see all the live (shows). That was just a dream job,” she said. “And then color came.”

She met Thomas Brown, who worked nearby at General Motors, on the Jersey Shore. They married and had four children. He became a GM purchaser in the overseas division, and the family went with him, living in Denmark, Saudi Arabia and Korea, and visiting countless other countries.

But Chapel Hill stole their hearts, and they moved here more than 30 years ago, she said.

In 1990, she went to work at Ivey’s, a Charlotte-based department store chain at the mall that Dillard’s bought that same year. Her daughter Lori Tracyzk had worked there during high school.

When her husband died a few years ago, Brown said work gave her somewhere to go. She has gotten to know many families, watching their kids grow up and attending graduations, weddings and funerals. She had five Thanksgiving dinner invitations last year, Tracyz said.

There were UNC basketball players, Chapel Hill police officers and others who shared a high school or former neighborhood. She recognized one man by the name on his credit card as a former NBC producer’s son. He visited the office as a child, she said.

Brown said she’s been told she could write a book with all the stories she’s heard.

“A lot of people use you as a sounding board, because you don’t know their family,” she said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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