There’s always something new at The Plum, the venerable women’s clothing shop in downtown Harrisburg.
That’s what owner Isaac Mishkin says, and, as anyone who’s passed by his Locust Street shop recently can attest, he isn’t kidding.
Since mid-September, a stunning, colossal mural by Ecuadoran artist Vera Primavera has graced the store’s exterior wall, adding vibrancy to what was once a large, drab surface. The mural’s size, bright colors and subject matter (a stylish young woman juxtaposed with a gypsy moth emerging from a purple-hued volcano) have quickly made it a draw for visitors.
It seems fitting that such an amazing addition should happen now, just as The Plum celebrates its golden anniversary—an amazing 50 years selling women’s fashions in the heart of Harrisburg.
Stepping through the door of the boutique just feels special, a calculated move on the part of the 80-year-old Mishkin and his daughter, Kirsten, who carefully crafted the décor to evoke big-city chic, with a dollop of posh. Black walls contrast with ornate white woodwork and high ceilings, giving the space an airy feel. Dripping crystal chandeliers tie in with an oversized gilded mirror for a hint of extravagance. Mishkin is quick to point out, however, that his fashion finds are approachable.
“My business is considered a ‘bridge store,’ which is to say that it’s a store that bridges the gap between the contemporary and the couture,” he said. “Our merchandise doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition like Yves Saint Laurent out of Paris, but it’s sold with quality in mind.”
Hats to Haute
Mishkin’s initial ambitions had little to do with fashion. As a young man, he pursued a degree in accounting—that is, until fate stepped in.
“My father died when I was a senior in college,” he said. “The family operated three millinery stores in Harrisburg, so I returned home to help my mother.”
Mishkin used marketing skills gleaned in college to add handbags to the inventory of headwear. When that succeeded, his interest in retail blossomed, inspiring him to open The Plum in 1967. His mother ended up selling her stores a year after Mishkin blazed his own retail path.
“The hat business was beginning to fade, but she was ready to retire by that time anyway,” Mishkin said.
Running a successful business for 50 years is no small feat, and Mishkin keeps up with the times when it comes to fashion. But, for service, he sticks with the tried-and-true.
“I wait on people the old-fashioned way,” he said, emphasizing the personal service he delivers, catering to each individual shopper.
He also takes pride in how his customers look, as they are a walking testament to his taste.
“I won’t sell anything that doesn’t look good on people,” he said. “We’re not in this business to make one big killing. We want them to say, ‘Oh my God,’ and then return.”
Not Just a Business
Mishkin flashes his signature wide smile, and his eyes light up with anticipation as a customer enters his shop. Watching him in action, it appears that he takes a split-second mental inventory to assess the patron’s shape, size and style to pair with his merchandise. Within minutes, he’s carefully pulling items off the racks—a cashmere sweater here, a poncho there.
“This will look great on you,” he assures one customer, who agrees after trying on his recommendation.
Coats, gowns, jeans, pants, capes, shirts, jewelry, belts, you name it—there’s a little of everything in Mishkin’s 3,000-square-foot flagship store and more can be found at his West Shore location in Camp Hill.
Cindy Fremont works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones and has been shopping at The Plum for 15 years.
“I have to be professional, but I like to throw a little funk in there every so often,” said the East Berlin resident whose mother-in-law originally recommended the shop. “Isaac knows fashion and what looks great.”
Fremont can attest to the quality of the garments, too.
“I have pieces that are easily a decade old,” she said, adding that daughter Kirsten inherited her father’s fashion sense. “When Kirsten travels to New York, she buys for me and everything fits.”
Pamela McDermott is another enthusiastic customer whose loyalty dates back years.
“I graduated from Lower Dauphin in the 1970s and have always loved to dress up since the age of 3,” she said. “When I needed a gown for the senior prom, my mom bought me one at The Plum. I kept the receipt—it cost $44.”
The Union Deposit woman, once recognized by the Patriot-News as a “style maven,” said that she has Mishkin on speed dial.
“I’m not a department store shopper,” she said. “If I’m looking for something unique, edgy and over the top, Isaac will have it.”
Surveying his shop, Mishkin says that he finds it hard to believe that he’s been in business for 50 years. He considers himself very lucky, both that he found his calling and that he’s been able to operate for decades in a difficult industry not known for its longevity.
“When I hear about so many people complaining about their jobs, I’m thankful that I like to go to work,” he said, flashing that big grin again. “Once that retail bug bites you, you can’t get rid of it, even if you want to retire. I like people. I like fashion. It’s not just a business. It’s a social thing too.”
The Plum is located at 213 Locust St., Harrisburg and at 3801 Old Gettysburg Rd., Camp Hill. For more information, call 717-232-9251 or visit www.theplumclothing.com or their Facebook page.