Back in 1979 when bell-bottoms were cool (the first time) and America was first introduced to the Happy Meal, Mary Joy Pipe started working at the East End Shirt Company in Port Jefferson.
Forty years later, Pipe is now the owner, the store is at the same location at 3 Mill Creek Road and she strives to keep the same vintage vibe they started with all those years ago.
“Tie-dye, a love of VW bugs and buses, and classic designs,” explained Pipe.
Last Saturday, the East End Shirt Company celebrated their 40th anniversary with a party that included music, face painting for kids, games and a special appearance by iconic Volkswagen Beetles.
“When it came time for planning our 40th-anniversary block party, we thought having classic VWs there would be a great way to celebrate that history,” said Pipe.
She reached out to the Long Island Volkswagen Club to see if they would be interested in having a car show as part of the celebration.
“They couldn’t have been more responsive, accommodating and kind,” Pipe said of the group of VW enthusiasts.
Candy-colored Volkswagen Beetles were on hand for photo ops and to give the party that throwback feel that Pipe was looking for.
“They put on a great show, and it was fun to learn more about their cars and see how excited visitors were to interact with them.”
The block party took place on Mill Creek Road, right off Main Street, the quaint side street that leads past East End Shirt Company and back to the Mill Street parking lot and Rocketship Park.
Back in 1979, East End Shirt Company was a 400-square-foot shop that custom screen-printed designs for customers right there in the store. They had about 10 designs to choose from. Pipe worked for the original store owner, Doug Norton, until around 12 years ago when he retired and she bought the business.
Over the decades, Pipe has seen a lot of changes in the village and her own business.
“We’ve made changes and seen changes,” she said. “And we grew with changing times.”
While her address is still the same, the store is in a new building on the same location, built around 13 years ago. The store has also adapted to the evolution of the village.
“In the mid-80s, we used to be open until 11 p.m. or midnight,” she said, saying that people used to shop all hours back then.
Now the store is rarely open past 10 p.m., and even that is later than most retail shops in the village.
“We’re probably the last ones to close.”
Pipe attributes to the store’s success to a number of factors. For one, consistency is key.
“People say, ‘Gosh you’re still here?’ I hear that every summer,” she said.
Pipe has muscled through some tough economic times throughout the years but the store remains a Port Jefferson staple.
“You have to be open when you say you’re going to be open and we are open all year round,” she said.
Mayor Margot Garant said that she’s thankful for businesses like East End Shirt Company for their investment and commitment to the village.
“They are one of the most customer and village friendly businesses I have ever encountered,” she added.
Pipe is often asked if the store closes in the wintertime but she doesn’t see a reason for it.
“The village is active and vibrant the whole year long,” she said.
She tries to stay responsive to what people are looking for and displays much of her stock online but coming to Port Jefferson Village to shop at East End Shirt Company is an experience you can’t replace with a website. And that sentiment is not limited by demographics that skew higher in the age category.
In the era of online shopping, Pipe— who is also the current president of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce— thinks that walkable, brick-and-mortar retail experiences are still valued by the consumer.
“I still believe in it,” she said. “It’s not a generational thing.”
Scroll down for photos of the celebration (courtesy of Keira Pipe/East End Shirt Company).