- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - Stephanie Perry walked into Lilly’s Party Wednesday afternoon in search of Elkhart Central graduation decorations, even though her son, Mason, is still three years away from receiving his diploma. With the party supply store set to close its doors on Oct. 31 after 111 years of business, Perry said it was likely her last chance to find Blazer napkins and party supplies.

“It’s very sad, because they have a lot of different things you can’t get anywhere else,” said Perry, who remembers going to Lilly’s Party to buy decorations for her wedding and her own high school graduation party.

Lilly’s Party owner Sarah Snyder said many customers are upset to lose a business that offered one of the area’s widest selection of party supplies and decorations, not to mention generations of happy memories.

“I had one customer come in and cry - the whole time. She cried on the way in, she cried while she shopped, she cried on the way out, because she was so sad we’re going away,” Snyder told The Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/Zxx1XV ). “Our customers are devastated, because they don’t know where they’re going to find this selection, and they have memories of coming in with their mom, and now they’re bringing their kids. It’s a lot of tradition.”

Snyder said dollar stores and party sections in Walmart and Target ate away some of the business that used to go to her store, but sales really began to decline when the recession hit in 2007.

“I think as a result of the economic downturn, people’s shopping habits changed radically, and they don’t shop the way they used to. They don’t spend money on parties the way they used to.” Snyder said. “They still come to us for the big events, but we can’t live on just the big events. We need the little ones in between, too.”

Snyder said she and her father, Tom Lilly, first discussed closing the store a year ago.

“My dad is still active as an owner in the business, and we kind of gave this last year as our one last shot, and if it’s a good year, we’ll keep going and if not we’re done,” Snyder explained.

But sales did not improve and Snyder is now trying to sell as much merchandise as possible before shuttering the business that has been in her family for four generations.

“I grew up running around the warehouse on Franklin Street, when we were down there. That was a four-story building with conveyor belts that my brother and I liked to play on, and we pushed each other around on the wooden carts,” Snyder said. “And then when we moved (to the Ward Street location) I was old enough to work, so I worked here in different capacities my entire life.”

Snyder has also worked as a chemist at Miles Laboratories and as a school secretary, but she’s not sure what she’ll do after emptying and selling the building.

“I’m going to take some time off, hopefully, after we close and figure that out.” Snyder said.

Garry Ferrell, the store manager, is also looking for a new job as Lilly’s Party enters its final weeks of business. Ferrell had to close his own store, Age of Aquariums, in 2009, and said he knows how hard it is to shut down a business and be left without a job.

“This is probably the best job I’ve ever had - including Age of Aquariums, where I was my own boss,” Ferrell said. “It’s sad to see this go.”

Snyder said the hardest part of going out of business is the knowledge that Lilly’s Party will no longer play a role in birthday parties, graduations and weddings across the community.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Snyder said. “We’re a part of everybody’s celebrations, and it’s fun to be part of that.”

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com


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