Business

A stylish run ends

Hammett's in McHenry Village was very busy Monday after word got out they'd be going out of business.
Hammett's in McHenry Village was very busy Monday after word got out they'd be going out of business.

Hammett's Women's Wear, a 63-year-old clothing shop in McHenry Village, will close its doors next month.

A steady stream of shoppers visited the store Monday, after owners sent a letter Friday to longtime customers informing them the store would begin a going-out-of-business sale.

"I think we're going to miss it terribly," said Patricia Kenealy, of Modesto, who hugged co-owner Myrne Hammett Madonna on her visit.

Kenealy said she'd shopped at Hammett's since 1969. "I always knew I could find something there."

Madonna said there was no specific reason for the closure, which comes after the store spent decades in downtown Modesto before closing and consolidating with the McHenry Village store in 1977.

But she said she feels Modesto will lose something significant when her store finally closes Feb. 16.

"There's no competition to us," Madonna said. "With the big stores, we have so much to offer that they don't have."

An arson fire destroyed Hammett's in its original village location in 2005, but it reopened a few doors away within months.

Business was brisk when the store reopened, but slumped more recently, Madonna said. She added that women's clothing has been hard hit by the recent economic downturn.

When customers received the closeout sale letters Saturday, Madonna said, the phone didn't stop ringing for hours, and the doorbell jangled all day long.

Madonna, who owns the store with her daughter, Katrina Princevalle, said many customers came by because to them, Hammett's and its employees were longtime friends.

"That's how we treated them," Madonna said.

Her mother, Clarice Hammett, opened the store in 1945, and Madonna took care of the accounting.

Madonna said her mom would take a weekly trip to San Francisco to buy new clothes, while Madonna ran the store. Katrina Princevalle told people later that she grew up in the store's hat drawer.

For many years, Hammett's was the store where a groom's or bride's mother found her wedding outfit, or for women who wanted something dressy for a night on the town, Madonna said.

Longtime customer Maryjean Thompson said the store was such a fixture for her that her children made sure to buy Thompson a Christmas gift from Hammett's.

"You make an effort to come to Hammett's," Thompson said. "I really feel a sadness. There's a sale, but this one isn't fun."

Madonna said clothing sales representatives tell her that Hammett's is among the last of its kind. "We emphasized quality, service and women," she said.

That grew harder in recent years, she said, as many clothing makers stopped designing clothes her customers wanted. But Madonna, Princevalle and their seven employees stuck with Hammett's philosophy -- and that helped the store survive.

At the same time, the store had a retro feel. Founder Clarice Hammett enforced a strict code for her employees -- suits and dresses, no pants -- and that didn't change when Madonna, her daughter, took over.

"And I never gave in on it," Madonna said with a smile.

Madonna said she decided only recently to close the store, and kept it a secret for weeks. She still hasn't figured out what she will do next or what will happen to the store's grand piano, restored after the 2005 fire all but destroyed it.

What is she sure of? That she'll miss her store.

Madonna said her mother and her husband, liquor store owner Chuck Madonna, were her first two loves until they died. Hammett's was her third.

"I'm not at retirement age," said Madonna, who won't say how old she is. "I've got too much to offer yet. We'll do what comes naturally."

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.

HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

A timeline of notable events in the history of Hammett's women's Wear, a longtime Modesto clothing store:

1945 -- Hammett's opens in downtown Modesto. Clarice Hammett is the owner and clothes buyer, while her daughter Myrne Hammett (later Myrne Hammett Madonna, right) is the financial officer.

1954 -- Myrne Hammett becomes a partner in the store.

1976 -- Myrne Hammett Madonna's daughter, Katrina, becomes a partner in the store. They open a second store in McHenry Village that year.

1977 -- The downtown Modesto store closes.

2005 -- In August, an arson fire devastates Hammett's, which closes for nearly three months and then reopens at a new location in the village in October.

2008 -- Madonna sends customers a letter that says the store will close Feb. 16.

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