Serving the Delta for Fifty Years
By Mark H. Stowers
They both came from families with a long tradition of retail and customer service in the Delta. Each had decided that “working Saturdays” would be a thing of the past when they entered college to pursue degrees that wouldn’t have them on a sales floor. But somehow, Leanne and Alan Silverblatt’s future became their past and a century plus of serving the Delta continues. The co-owners of Young Ideas in Indianola celebrated fifty years in business this past October. The three day celebration included special deals, plenty of refreshments and even entertainment as customers both young and old as well as former staff came back to reflect on the store’s success.
Before the duo started running Young Ideas, Drew native, Alan Silverblatt, decided to major in Industrial Engineering at Florida State University while on a baseball scholarship. Leanne had started school at Tulane, but both would transfer and graduate from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
“I didn’t want anything to do with retail,” says Leanne. “It was hard with long hours and working on Saturdays.”
After graduation, her plan was still working as they moved to Texas where Alan worked for Texas Instruments. But, after he decided he wanted to own his own business, Leanne’s non-retail adventure life soon ended.
“He wanted to move back to the Delta and start his own retail business,” she says. “And, I like to say he brought me back kicking and screaming.”
Young Ideas opened fifty years ago and the kicking and screaming seems to have stopped somewhere along the way as the business grew in its success and customer satisfaction.
“Hard work and being nice to customers, is part of our continued success,” says Alan.
“We are open to new things and had to change with the times over the years,” says Leanne. “It’s not always a nine to five job. You take it home and it gets in your blood. It’s small town customer service. You do the best for your customer giving them a quality product at a fair price.”
That mentality has been handed down again and again.
“This is the 114th year of our family in continuous retail business in Indianola starting with my great-grandparents,” says Leanne. “We are standing on all those people’s shoulders and we are trying to honor them.”
Coming from Silver City in the early 1900s, Leanne’s family opened Isaac Harris and Sons in 1909 where The Crown Restaurant now stands. The couple’s family’s retail history is a Delta story all its own.
“We were both from retail backgrounds, but Alan’s family was from Ruleville and Drew and had grocery stores and retail,” says Leanne. “My great, great grandparents moved to Indianola and opened a store here.”
But, just why did they move? They were looking for a setting with few more social options for their daughter, Ethel, according to Leanne. The story continued as Ethel, married Abe Weinberg who had a men’s store downtown Indianola, Weinberg’s. Leanne’s parents, the Lipnicks, had been in Inverness with their own store and came to Indianola to help run Weinberg’s.
With Leanne’s parents working downtown, the Lipnicks figured someone would eventually open a children’s store on the highway. Why not have it be their own daughter?
“They thought it would be better to have friendly competition. Alan had explored some franchise ideas, but we decided to open Young Ideas in 1973 in the Lovelace Shopping Center,” she says.
The popular store continued to garner attention and soon carried more inventory and a new location a decade later. Young Ideas moved to its current location – the former Sunflower Food Store on Highway 82 – along with dentist Steve Wooten setting up in the back part of the location.
“We added junior clothing, ladies, gifts and a few other things in addition to children’s clothing,” says Leanne.
Working together for the past fifty years, the Silverblatts have learned to make it work. Alan, a former pitcher for the Florida State University Seminoles and Louisiana State University Tigers, pays attention to numbers and finance while Leanne focuses on getting to market for products, setting up the shopping window, and tending to customers. But, she admits, Alan isn’t just punching numbers all day. He’s a five-tool player when it comes to retail.
“He’s the numbers person, bookkeeper and pays attention to numbers, but he is probably the best salesperson in the store,” she says. “I do most of the buying although he helps with that as well. But we both wait on the customers and vacuum the floor.”
And, even though they spend each day in the store, it’s not always being together.
“It’s really worked out for us because hopefully, in retail, you have customers coming in and out. It’s not like we are in an office with just the two of us with nobody else,” she says. “He may be doing something in the office and I’m working in the window. Even when there’s not customers coming in, there is work to be done.”
And much like the long line of happy couples who thrived in retail in their family before them, they have the rare occasion of raising their voices. However, Leanne notes they “think alike in how to do the business and we both come from a long line of our families stressing that you do anything to keep the customer happy. So, we’re big on customer service. We think alike and it’s worked out for us.”
Working together – a family tradition for over 100 years – still works and breeds success.
“We don’t know anything else,” says Alan. “It’s great. We do a lot of work at home together too. We make orders and I do the books. We’re both easy going. Most of our adult life we’ve been working together. It’s gone well for fifty years. Certainly, business has it’s trials when it’s not going well.”
He also adds that when they are out socially or on a trip, they leave business at home and enjoy their time together.
“We go on a trip and we don’t even call home.” says Alan. “We have good people we leave the store with over the years.”
Being in business for five decades, Alan enjoys seeing the customer base grow.
“It’s fun waiting on the third generation of families,” he says. “Seeing them come back in, that’s kind of neat.”
Over the years there have been trying times. Ice storms shutting down business and a Christmas Eve without power that turned out ok.
“It was off starting the beginning of the day,” says Leanne. “I took flashlights and every candle I had up to the store and we ended up having a pretty good day that day, believe it or not. The candle idea wasn’t fully thought through though. The fragrant mixes gave plenty of light but the smell became overwhelming. By the end of the day all of us working there all had headaches from all that perfume in the air. That was an adventure doing Christmas Eve in the dark and trying to wrap presents and wait on people.”
Over the years, the Silverblatts, like the Lipnicks, have come up with “Crazy Day” sales where they dressed up strangely and slashed prices on some items to a crazy amount. They survived the Beanie Baby frenzy where the line out the door and all the cars in the parking lot made passerbyers wonder if the store was on fire.
“In all of our fifty years, no matter what merchandise we had, nobody lined up at the doors like that,” she says. “We had to figure out do you let everybody in at once? Do you limit the amount you could buy? We had to go in the back door there were so many people lined up out front. It was crazy but a fun kind of a deal to fool with.”
Alan added that, “people would spend the night (outside the store) to get them.”
From not wanting to have anything to do with retail to coming home to it for the past five decades, Leanne and Alan Silverblatt found a way to make it work for them, every day, no matter the ice storm, awful candle scent or crazy store item. Young Ideas, in business since 1973 with plenty of future ahead for the Silverblatts.