By Marc Larocque The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) During an era when stay-at home moms were the norm, 21 year old Alyce Reizian opened her own small business in what was a thriving and hotly competitive downtown Brockton in 1951.
After taking a train to New York City in her early 20s, Alyce Reizian marched into the office of a bridal gown manufacturing company, approached the man in charge and asked to open an account.
The scrupulous businessman looked down at the petite woman and asked, "Why should I open an account for you?" Reizian was quick to reply: "I have $4,000 cash, and I will pay you on time."
That was the beginning of a Brockton bridal shop that later became a cornerstone of downtown Brockton and the wedding dress market.
During an era when stay-at home moms were the norm, and just 21 and the daughter of Armenian immigrants, Alyce Reizian opened her own small business in what was a thriving and hotly competitive downtown Brockton in 1951.
About 30 years later, in a much larger downtown location, the 400-square-foot Alyce Reizian Bridal Shop became one of the largest shops in New England, said her son, John Merian.
"To have a business down there at age 21 was truly remarkable," said Merian, "and, as a woman, to open a business was even more remarkable, while she was also getting ready to start a family."
John continues to operate the family tuxedo business in the spot, following his mother's retirement in 2000. But a large, custom sign with her name in cursive remains on display on the facade of Tuxedos by Merian, where the bridal shop once was. It serves as reminder of her mark on the city -- and on her family.
Surrounded by her family, Alyce died Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 at 89.
John Merian and his younger brother, Paul, sat down recently with The Enterprise to share memories of their pioneer mother, who was a pillar of the Brockton business community, a civic leader and a catalyst for entrepreneurial women.
"She loved living life," said Paul Merian, who co-runs Tuxedos by Merian. "She's an inspiration for all women out there who are seeking their dream."
She learned at a young age that dreams required hard work, said John, when her mother took her and her brother to the factory she worked at during summer vacation from Brockton High School. Alyce graduated from BHS in 1947.
"My grandmother woke my mother and my uncle at 4 o'clock in the morning," he said. "She'd get them on the bus, and then took them to work. After they were there, my grandmother explained the reason, that she wanted to show them how they got their money."
Later, after founding her original bridal shop in downtown Brockton in 1951, with the $4,000 she borrowed from her parents, Alyce Reizian was able to remove her mother from life in the factory, and instead moved her parents into a new home.
Soon, her mother began making gowns, starting a business that would forever be a family affair.
"She told my grandmother that she'd never have to work in a factory again," John Merian said. "She would instead alter wedding gowns for her daughter in a work area my grandfather made on the second floor of their house until my grandmother retired in the late 1970s. ... My mother would pin the dresses, and then bring them to my grandmother's house, and my grandmother would alter them and she'd bring them back. It was pretty neat the way she kind of evolved everything."
Alyce Merian was also prone to bring her work home, working at all hours, and making head pieces for weddings.
"We'd come home at 4 in the morning some time after a night out, and she'd be out on the couch making head pieces," John Merian said. "She'd bead them, she'd cut them and then she'd structure them. It was amazing."
LOVE FOR CHRISTMAS, ARMENIA In addition to her business, Alyce Merian was also active throughout her life with the local Armenian-American community.
As a young woman, she was involved in the Brockton Armenian Youth Federation. Later, she helped establish the Armenian School to teach young people in Brockton about the history and language of Armenia.
That wasn't her only contribution. She would play a key role as chairwoman of the decorating committee for Brockton's centennial celebration about 38 years ago, as well as being involved with the local garden club.
But her biggest passion was Christmas, a passion that John Merian said rubbed off on her children and led him and his brother to start organizing the city's annual holiday parade in downtown Brockton about 25 years ago. "Our involvement and the Christmas events are her gifts to the City of Brockton for all to enjoy," said Paul Merian.
Alyce Merian thrived at Christmas time. Her sons estimate that, over the years, she made more than 350 Christmas ornaments, knitting them together from scrap fabric.
She also made a custom line of super stretchy Christmas stockings -- with snowman, Santa, reindeer and soldier designs -- and gave about 400 of them as gifts.
"They were big, so you could fit more toys and goodies in them," John Merian said. "You could put a car in it, they'd stretch so much. That's why everybody loved them. That was like her signature. ... She loved Christmas."
Christmas time was also part of the Merians' "livelihood," namely through booming lingerie gift sales at the bridal shop, which happened each year until the rise of malls and Victoria's Secret, John Merian said.
In the basement, there were would be piles of boxes with people's names on them, neatly wrapped by the large team of family members and other staff members at the Alyce Reizian Bridal Shop -- and always under the personal and careful direction of Alyce.
"We'd all be in there as kids wrapping, and she had a very meticulous form of wrapping gifts," John Merian recalled. "It was very uniform. And she'd show everybody there how to do it, whether you were 5 years old or 50. The lingerie department in our store was unbelievable. You can ask anyone you know. You either made bows in the basement, or you wrapped lingerie at Christmas time. It was like a factory."
BROCKTON'S GLORY DAYS Alyce Merian lived through the "glory days" of Brockton, said John Merian, growing up with the family of undefeated boxing great Rocky Marciano and later becoming friends with undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
"She was able to see two great champions bring two world titles to Brockton, and had the privilege of knowing them both personally," John said. "My mother and father were close to both families, and she was able to enjoy their professional successes and friendships all her life."
Before starting her own business in the original 400-square-foot location (now an empty lot next to Elvera's Cafe), then-Alyce Reizian entered New England School of Law, withdrawing later to pursue her dream of becoming a millinery at Bonwit Teller in Boston. Paul Merian said at one point there she sold a hat to actress Elizabeth Taylor.
With the skills she developed at Bonwit Teller, and with the $4,000 borrowed from her mother, the Brockton woman went to New York and made her first deal, opening an account with a supplier and beginning a business career that would last over six decades.
"She was asked when she worked at Bonwit Teller to come work for another business, Gladys', and become their millinery expert," said John Merian, recalling a recent conversation with his mother. "She said, 'I'm not going to work for her, having me do what I do best. I'm going to open up my own spot.' That was her forte -- hats and headpieces. So she actually opened it up as a millinery story with bridal gowns."