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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Needle case connects us to early NOTL entrepreneur
Mulholland_inside

John Sayers
Special to The Lake Report

You’ve seen the ads for online gaming and some of our readers will have agreed to “playOJO.com” or visit other gaming sites. My game is different.

My game is searching online for historical material about our town and about Niagara Camp, which once occupied the Commons. My feeble hit rate is probably comparable to online gaming, but once in a while (as you will recall from trips to casinos) – presto, you hit the jackpot!

Here’s my local insight jackpot: A 1906 needle case used as a Christmas promotion by Mrs. S. E. Mulholland. So, who was she and what did she do? As described in the museum’s latest book, “Making Her Mark,” Sophie E. Mulholland founded the Mulholland Department Store in 1867.

We now know more about her business acumen. The promotion emphasizes Gents Furnishings, with the admonition “Don’t wear old-fashioned togs young man, nor antiquated ties.” (That sounds like she peeked into my own post-retirement closet!)

And on another page, she tells the recipient that she carries staple and fancy dry goods, carpets, oil cloths, and wallpapers as well as men’s furnishings, etc. A sketch illustration pictures a woman with table cloths and table linen. In a smaller town, 115 years ago, you had to carry a variety of goods.

For a local merchant, she had brilliant advertising instincts. By providing a handy-sized calendar for the year she motivated users to keep it on hand for an entire year.

And by including sewing needles (Queen Victoria brand made with a Royal Warrant) she anticipated that this would go in a sewing basket (remember them) and stay around for even more than a year. And that’s probably where this one came from. Even more amazing is that this came from an online eBay vendor in Tillsonburg, Ont.

So, what happened to Mrs. Mulholland? I checked vintage local telephone directories at the museum and saw the business listed in a 1913 local phone directory and in a 1930 version.

Historian David Greaves tells me her son carried on the business and it was run out of the present Taylor’s location on Queen Street, with the family home right next door where the Irish Shop now stands. Greaves also mentioned that the home had a pipe organ that poured out loud music you could easily hear in the store next door.

As with so many family businesses, the life of the business depends upon the life of the family, and it is no longer with us.

Fortunately, this vibrant business, run by a woman with business smarts who was clearly ahead of her time, has been followed by other NOTL retailers who have continued to provide well-presented products and services – but probably without promotional needle cases!