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Editorial: A retailing force to be reckoned with – Judith Fine

  • After 38 years at the helm of Gazebo, an intimate apparel shop in Northampton, owner Judith Fine is retiring - or "rewiring", as she puts it - and handing the reins to two employees, Amy Dickinson and Donna McNeight.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Judith Fine, with her iconic long white braid and striking sense of style, has been a symbol of the strength and vitality that has made downtown Northampton a retail destination for decades.

Fine, 66, who ran Gazebo, her lingerie store, for 37 years, devoted herself not only to customer service, but to boosting the downtown business climate and building breast cancer awareness and support. She was a unmistakable presence on Main Street and in city meeting rooms.

Now, confident that she has found new owners who will carry on her determination to make undergarment shopping a positive outing for all women, she has sold her shop to two women who worked there: Donna McNeight of Chesterfield and Amy Dickinson of Conway. Fine is now getting a well-earned opportunity to spend time her husband, slate roofer Doug Luce, who retired last year.

Store manager Emma Dostal, a familiar figure to those who have stepped into Fine’s homey fitting rooms, is staying on as store manager. She worked for Fine for 35 years.

“It was crucial to me that they be the owners,” Fine said of McNeight and Dickinson, in an interview with Gazette reporter Dan Crowley. “I know they are committed to carrying on what Gazebo has accomplished and make it better.”

By selling to store employees expected to uphold the reputation that has made Gazebo a success, Fine follows in the footsteps of Jack and Priscilla Finn, who turned A2Z, their longtime downtown learning and science store, over to staffers Andre and Devon Boulay last year.

Both Gazebo on Center Street and A2Z on King Street have been cornerstone businesses in Northampton – and now promise to continue under new leaders.

Fine has been fiercely protective of her business, letting a employee go last summer, for example, over public statements that Fine felt insulted her customers. She hit everyone on her email list with an apology and explanation and took out newspaper ads to ensure that her position was understood by the community.

Customers who frequented her shop knew that when they walked through her door they would get undivided attention helping them puzzle out what can be a tricky process —  getting a bra that fits right. Her staff’s patient, knowledgeable approach could make a woman feel she was at home getting advice from a trusted friend.

Fine’s sewing machine stood in the store’s basement ready to alter garments that needed further tinkering. She started off making non-traditional wedding gowns in a store in Thornes Marketplace in 1978 and before long she was making pieces of lingerie. A year or so later, she moved her enterprise to 16 Center St., named it Gazebo and hired women to make garments. Today her merchandise comes from a variety of companies.

Dealing with the intimate side of a woman’s wardrobe led her to specialize in breast prostheses and post-mastectomy bra fittings and to become a champion of  breast cancer survivors. At Dostal’s suggestion, she founded the Breast Form Fund in the 1990s to help women without insurance pay for these items. She created the fundraiser “Show Us Your Bra,” which illustrated her creative side with a whimsical bra sculpture competition and calendars to sell.

Beside all of this, she sat for two terms on the Northampton City Council, served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and the former Downtown Business Association and held positions on  charitable boards as well. Her voice has often been heard as she stepped up to speak on issues affecting the downtown business community. Recently, she helped guide community discussions about shared use of the dog-walking area on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital. As many who worked with her on downtown or city businesses told Crowley, Judith Fine was an energetic force who will be sorely missed as a retailer. We hope she remains in the public eye, speaking out for what she believes is best for Northampton.