Mary Ervin always had an eye for fine things.
Her mother was a seamstress, and women would bring their beaded ball gowns to her to hem and fit.
“Design was in my mom’s blood,” said her daughter, Elizabeth Ervin, who runs the downtown Mystic business, Linen Press with her mother.
Perhaps that explains why Mary Ervin went into the fine linens business 28 years ago, and the shop has thrived and even expanded in recent years, while others have scaled back.
The company has a retail store in Mystic, an interior design firm upstairs, and opened a retail store in Old Greenwich five years ago based on the success of the Mystic shop. Linen Press also opened a design firm in Old Greenwich within the past two months.
Mary Ervin started in a small space on Water Street, selling down pillows and comforters.
Elizabeth Ervin said her mother got the idea while traveling in Germany. She had stayed in a bed and breakfast one night, had a wonderful night’s sleep, and decided to ask the innkeeper where she could get the pillows she’d slept on.
He pointed her to a shop down the street.
She went inside as a customer and left as an importer of down, Ervin said.
During the first few years of, the store functioned as a wholesaler of down pillows and comforters. Then people started wanting to buy pillow covers and shams, Elizabeth Ervin said. Her mother began making them in a workroom.
She then turned the business from a wholesale operation into retail store.
Today Linen Press sells products like towels, bathmats, tablecloths, napkins, decorative accessories and soap. The design firm upstairs takes on larger projects, working with builders and architects to help families design kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms.
The company is working on four local homes, along with several houses out of state.
“A lot of people don’t know that we have a design firm and that we do kitchens and baths,” Elizabeth Ervin said.
The shop has moved twice since its early years - from Water Street to 9 West Main St., then to its current address at 49 W. Main.
Elizabeth Ervin worked on the sales floor during junior high school and high school, then went to college in Chicago. She got a job there working for a luxury linens retailer, and they initially asked her to open their downtown Chicago store.
She decided she’d rather work in the family business.
“Sometimes you don’t have an appreciation for what’s in front of you until you step outside of it,” she said. She now manages retail operations.
The store’s clients are about 80 percent local - including residents with summer homes - and 20 percent visitors from out of state.
But once people come to the store, they come back, she said. Even if it’s by phone until their next trip.
“Even though they’re not physically here, they’ll shop year round.” she said. “You would think they lived down the street.”