By Kathy Gibbons
TRAVERSE CITY — After 29 years, Kay Jerome is hanging up the, well, hangers.
The founder and owner of Kay's in Traverse City sold the store and is retiring. Cynthia Glines, of Traverse City, purchased the business that will close soon and reopen in February as the new Kay's after a spruce-up and an influx of new merchandise.
Suzanne Hendry, manager for the last five years or so, will stay on with the new owner. As for Jerome, she's just about out of there.
Not that she hasn't enjoyed the ride, she said.
Jerome started Kay's 29 years ago because she needed a job and loved apparel. She had a teaching certificate and degree in design from the University of Michigan, and found a good fit in selling women's wear and accessories.
"Twenty-nine years ago, 30 years ago, everything in women's apparel was very, very preppy — the classic button-down shirt, navy jacket and khaki skirt," she said. "I felt there needed to be softening and a few options."
Jerome started out sharing space in the back of another apparel store, and sold sportwear, loungewear, sleepwear and some lingerie.
"I only had 450-square feet," she said. "I realized I needed more space, and needed to be full-fledged sportswear, and it kind of evolved."
Jerome built a loyal clientele of locals and visitors over three decades. She's also been active in the Downtown Traverse City Association, which she viewed as her duty as a downtown merchant.
"I am from Traverse originally and grew up here, and it's just terribly important that if you own a business on Front Street, you need to know what's happening," she said. "I have always been aware of the fact that we needed to give back."
Rob Bacigalupi, DTCA deputy director, said Jerome was especially instrumental in urging development of off-season activities to draw people to Traverse City and downtown in the wintertime.
"She's been really strong in terms of urging the DTCA to promote good customer service," he said. "She's always been a very generous and sharing merchant."
Jerome said she plans to do some traveling, but she won't stay away too long. And she probably won't be a stranger to downtown, which she said is a key part of creating the destination that is Traverse City.
"I have the best staff, customers and vendors and reps," she said. "They've all become friends and I'm very fortunate.
"It's just been a great amount of fun and enjoyment."