MUSCATINE, Iowa — In an era when American women were taking a swipe at independence, Muscatine’s Marie Lindsay was making strides.
Lindsay was a single mother raising two young children when she opened her own business in downtown Muscatine 43 years ago.
This year, as she retires from the successful enterprise she built from the ground up, Lindsay, 89, has some advice for today’s business owners.
Identify a need
Lindsay realized Muscatine needed a comprehensive interior design service as she worked at the Sherwin Williams paint store in downtown Muscatine.
Customers were seeking assistance in coordinating their wall coverings with the colors and textures of floor coverings and draperies, and Lindsay began to envision a business that could help people customize those elements to create an elegant, finishing touch.
“A good designer doesn’t cost you money,” said Lindsay. “It saves you money.”
She fueled that vision with her education in home economics and the strong work-ethic she inherited from her Italian immigrant parents to establish Marie Lindsay Interiors in 1966.
She opened her business at 128 W. Second St. in a building her father, Frank Calderone, gave her when she was 18.
In 1975, Lindsay decided to add Pennsylvania House furniture to her inventory. She began using the basement of the building across the street to store the furniture, and then moved her business to that location at 129 W. Second St.
Lindsay said new business owners should be sure they have enough money in the bank to get them through first three to five years of becoming established.
“Have some money to live on,” she said. “And establish a good relationship with your bank.”
Customers are friends
Cultivating an environment of trust and respect in a business is vital, said Lindsay, who thinks of many of her customers as good friends.
“We have been very fortunate to have loyal support,” said Lindsay.
Her daughter, Rose Ann Hass, agrees.
“Customer service is what keeps people coming back,” said Hass, who has managed the store for nearly 13 years.
Hass said some customers have returned two and three times for assistance in redesigning their homes.
“You need to remember that the customer is always right,” said Hass. “If you don’t assume that, you can end up with what you want instead of what the customer needs.”
Like Lindsay, many of her employees have spent decades at the store.
“It’s a friendship you formulate, not just a business relationship,” said Bernie Radtke, of Muscatine who came to work for Lindsay 36 years ago. “It’s like family here.”
Seamstress Janet Hagy has been with the store since it opened, said Lindsay.
“She’s better than anyone in the United States,” said Lindsay. “The best seamstress I’ve ever seen.”
Ria Meyer has been a bookkeeper at the store for 27 years.
Newer employees include installer Dale Keeler, 13 years; designer Mindy Scott, 10 years; Shelley Rogalski, assistant bookkeeper for three years and designer Tami Olive, five years.
“This outfit is a good outfit,” said Lindsay.
A history of ambition
A glimpse of Lindsay’s family background provides some clues to the origins of her ambition and confidence.
Her parents, Frank and Rosina Gaeta Calderone, immigrated to the United States from Italy in the early 20th century.
“My uncle, (her mother’s brother,) lived in Muscatine and knew my dad was coming to the United States,” said Lindsay. “He asked them to come here.”
Lindsay was born in Muscatine in 1920, is the only one of her three siblings to survive childhood.
A brother was still born, one sister died of diphtheria and another sister died in an accident.
Despite the tragedies, Lindsay recalls the care she received from her devoted parents.
“I was so loved,” she said.
Her parents infused that love with actions that motivated Lindsay to develop her intelligence and talents.
“My grandmother, (Rosina Gaeta Calderone) would say, ‘It’s better for a mother to have to sit on her children than to have to light a fire under them,” recalls Hass.
When her father first gave Lindsay the downtown Muscatine building, he told her to have it renovated into apartments.
Hass said she still marvels at the fact that her mother, at such a young age, rose to the challenge of taking charge of the construction team, telling them how the renovation should progress.
“She learned to speak their language,” Hass said. “That was before women ever stepped foot out of the house to do anything.”
After that success, Lindsay went Iowa State University to study home economics.
“That was almost unheard of then,” said Rose Ann.
Marie put her college education on hold when she married William Lindsay in 1943.
The couple became parents to two children, Bill and Rose Ann, before William died in an accident in 1950.
With the help of her parents, Marie raised her family and finished her degree in home economics in 1952. She was a home economist with the Muscatine branch of the Iowa State Extension Service from 1953-60 before beginning her employment with Sherwin Williams.
As she enters retirement, Lindsay looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Hass said she and her mother are seeking potential buyers for Marie Lindsay Furniture and Interiors and hope to see it continue operating in downtown Muscatine.
“We would like to see Marie Lindsay Furniture and Interiors continue for the benefit of Muscatine,” said Hass. “Anyone can come and see us.”