A classic continues: Harlow Luggage bought out by silent partner

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, who is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage, waits on Barbara Wanckyk at the store on Main Street Northampton. Mark Parsons is taking over ownership. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, who is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage, waits on Barbara Wanckyk at the store on Main Street Northampton. Mark Parsons is taking over ownership. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Colorful wallets from Harlow Luggage. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. The store is having retirement sale. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton Business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Burdick, left, is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage and Mark Parsons is taking over ownership of the Northampton business.

  • A sign announcing Bob Burdick's retirement from owning Harlow Luggage. Mark Parsons is the new owner of the Main street business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At left, Bob Burdick, who is retiring from owning Harlow Luggage, goes through papers while new owner Mark Parsons talks with customer Becky Shannon.

  • A sign announcing Bob Burdick's retirement from owning Harlow Luggage. Mark Parsons is the new owner of the Main Street business. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A sign announcing Bob Burdick's retirement from owning Harlow Luggage. Mark Parsons is the new owner of the Main street business. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photograph taken in the 1800's of W. L Chilson's which then became Harlow Luggage. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photograph taken in the 1800s of W.L. Chilson’s, which then became Harlow Luggage. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2019 12:17:14 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A business that has been around since the 19th century will stay open on Main Street, as its owner for the last 15 years enjoys some well-earned retirement.

Harlow Luggage began in 1875, when it was known as W. L Chilson. And then, as now, it sold suitcases, wallets and gloves.

“One of the Chilson girls married a Harlow, and they changed the name to Harlow,” said Bob Burdick, a former banker who bought the store in 2004.

Burdick purchased the store with silent partner Mark Parsons, who for the last 21 years has owned Berkshire Classic Leather and Silver in Lenox.

“I was looking for something else to do,” said Burdick, of his decision some 15 years ago. “I decided that I should own my own blood pressure.”

In the end the choice was between having a storefront in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Northampton. And at the last minute, Burdick and Parsons acquired Harlow Luggage.

“It was going to go out of business that very same day we bought it,” Burdick said.

Burdick and Parsons live in North Adams and Cheshire respectively. Burdick makes the hour-plus commute each way.

“By the time I’ve gotten home, I’ve kind of forgotten all about it if I’ve had a bad day,” said Burdick.

Burdick and Parsons share something other than being Berkshire County natives: A love of music.

“That’s how Bob and I met,” said Parsons.

The pair have been in multiple bands together, Burdick is a saxophonist and Parsons plays guitar. They played music together long before hooking up in business.

Burdick prepared to retire last year and lined up a buyer, saving it from potential closure.

However, at the last minute, Parsons decided that he wanted to take it over fully.

“At the last second I said, ‘I just can’t let it go,’” Parsons said.

Parsons is a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate, and he loves that he’ll get to spend more time in the Pioneer Valley.

He also said his wife loves visiting the area, which influenced his decision to take over the store.

Parsons said that he’ll be keeping Berkshire Classic in Lenox and that the complimentary seasons in the Berkshires, where summer is the busiest time of year, and the Valley, where it is the slowest, will balance each other out.

“My busy season coincides with the slower season here,” he said.

Parsons also took credit for Patisserie Lenox opening a location in Northampton, saying that he suggested it to them.

“You can thank me, I got them here,” he said.

The number of salespeople at Harlow’s has decreased since Burdick’s retirement was announced. However, Parsons said that he will increase the workforce to four salespeople.

Parsons took over the store on Feb. 1. Nevertheless, as of Tuesday, Burdick was still helping out behind the counter.

“I’m trying to tie up some loose ends,” he said.

Parsons had a description of it himself: “This is what we call free labor.”

The retirement sale that Burdick instituted, 30 percent or more off anything in the store, is still ongoing, with Parsons planning on adding additional inventory.

Burdick noted that Harlow’s doesn’t do a big tourist business, with most of its customers being local. It also possesses a strong clientele of returning customers.

“We depend upon them,” he said.

One of those customers is Becky Shannon.

“I’ve gotten lots of things here,” she said. “Gloves, bags, wallets, suitcases.”

She’s happy the store will continue.

“I’m glad to see that there’s interest in it staying,” she said.

Parsons said that he plans on beefing up Harlow’s accessory business and will give the store “a little facelift.”

He also said that they will keep on top of trending merchandise, and he noted that he was the first Bagallini customer ever and one of the first Osgoode Marley customers, both of which sell bags.

“I’ve got an eye for that,” Parsons said.

In addition to playing music, Burdick plans on traveling with his wife. Their first stop will be Italy, and they also have a river cruise scheduled from Budapest to the Netherlands.

“I’ve got to decide what I want to be when I grow up,” said Burdick, 68.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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