Main Street staple to shut doors for good
Longwood students and locals have been rushing to 140 N. Main Street in the last week to buy up t-shirts and other apparel after learning of Pairet Inc.’s store owner Thomas “Tom” Pairet’s plans to retire and close the store for good, bringing an end to 76 years of family business.
Today, Pairet’s is a town staple known across the area for its licensed Longwood apparel and highly successful screen printing/engraving business, but the store can trace its origins all the way back to 1945 with the founding of an entirely different type of business — Farmville Electric Appliance Company.
Tom’s grandfather, Larkin Pairet, opened Farmville Electric Appliance Company 76 years ago, but it would not remain an appliance store for long. In fact, according to Tom, the family dabbled in many different lines of work before arriving at screen printing/Longwood merchandise, what the store is perhaps best known for today.
“We tried a little bit of everything to try to find our niche and what we thought would be a good way of making a living,” he noted during a Tuesday, Nov. 2, interview. “I mean, we have done it all.”
The family business was passed down from Tom’s grandfather (Larkin) to his father, E.M. “Sonny” Pairet, who then passed the business down to Tom. Over the years, the family delved into home building, electrical work, TV sales, paint — but it wasn’t until around the late ’70s that Tom’s father produced the winning idea.
“I have to give credit where credit is due. I came home from college, and my father says, ‘Son, do you know anything about screen printing?’”
Tom’s dad recommended the business look into screen printing, pointing out the convenience of having a local college with plenty of students nearby.
Although he’s the first to tell you he can’t draw a stick figure, Tom made the decision to attend screen printing classes and learned the trade. The store was rechristened “Pairet’s Inc.,” and the rest is history.
For several decades, Pairet’s has offered an array of fully-licensed Longwood University merchandise, sporting goods and other screen printed apparel. The business is also well known for engraving plaques and trophies. In the past, it has also sold hunting and fishing supplies.
But the store, which represents three generations of business, will be shutting its doors permanently in the coming weeks as Tom prepares to retire.
When asked about the decision to close the store, Tom noted it seemed like the right time, adding he hopes to be able to enjoy more hobbies from his younger days such as hunting and fishing.
“At 66 years of age, I felt like it was good time for me to try to get out while I was still young enough to be able to enjoy myself and be able to do the things I want to do without working until I was so old that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” he added.
Pairet’s last day open is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 23; the last day before Longwood students go home for Thanksgiving break. But as news spreads that the business is closing, there may not be enough merchandise left for the doors to remain open that long.
Residents and students alike have flocked to the store in recent weeks in an attempt to get ahold of the remaining stock. Entire sections of the business have been emptied — underclassmen, Tom noted, have been coming in to purchase alumni shirts for after graduation, and others have been grabbing 20 pieces of apparel at a time — souvenirs to keep long after the store has left its home on Main Street.
Tom said it’s hard to believe how much merchandise has gone and how packed the store has been since word got out.
“I don’t know that I’ve got enough inventory left to make it to the 23rd,” he stated.
When asked about the future of 140 N. Main, Pairet hinted that the building has already been sold. While he couldn’t discuss exactly what would become of the building, he noted the new business owners have plans for extensive development.
While Tom is excited for retirement, making the decision to close the store has been tough, although seeing the influx of love and support from customers has been heartwarming.
On Tuesday, he recalled the many years spent serving the community and the many friends made along the way.
He thanked the countless people that have helped to make the business so successful over the years.
“Without Longwood, without its students, without our community and support from surrounding counties, Pairet’s wouldn’t be here. We’re a mom and pop operation, but we’ve got a mighty big family.”
Of course, family has always been the driving force behind Pairet’s.
“Without my grandfather and my father, none of this would have been possible.”