Eighty-year-old Alice Scott has spent more than half of her life fitting women’s undergarments and clothing at her business, Sharon Malone Lingerie.
After 40 years of bra measurements, outfit designs and constructing post-mastectomy breast forms, Scott has decided to close the business and retire.
“I didn’t have to make a fortune off it. That’s the way I think some people thought it would be. My enjoyment was helping women feel better about themselves,” Scott said.
Scott said she plans to close by the end of June following a liquidation sale, which begins on Thursday.
“It’s just time for me to spend some time with my great-grandchildren and family,” said Scott, who celebrates her 81st birthday in August.
Scott characterized her decision to close Sharon Malone Lingerie strictly as a matter of age, not as a matter of finance.
Since buying the business in 1981, Scott said the clothing industry has evolved to online services and big-box retailers, but she adapted, which allowed Sharon Malone Lingerie to be sustainable.
She adapted to current styles and offered hands-on fitting services, which maintained repeat clientele, she said.
Renalda Salyers, 62, a 32-year employee of Sharon Malone Lingerie, pointed to a colorful, bohemian box decorated with a stylized peacock. Inside, hundreds of alphabetized cards documented customers’ measurements and specifications as they developed over time.
“The strength of her business is that,” said Salyers. “The knowledge we have helps them, despite the online stuff.”
Bras used to sell, average, 34B in the 1970s, now the average is 36 or more, with cup sizes augmenting through “D, E, F, G, and all the way through K,” Scott said.
“They’re not just in store, they’re selling. Women are larger now and I think we’ve perfected the fit. We’ve become more conscious of that,” Scott said.
Helping women with comfort and self-esteem has always been tantamount to her career, Scott said.
She offered mastectomy breast form services in the 1980s and 1990s, but gave it up due to the time-consuming regulations and documentation required with insurance companies and Medicare.
“It was a service I could give to ladies who needed help with that time in their lives,” Scott said. “Doing that fulfilled my wanting to help people.”
At the front of the store in the 1980s, Scott kept more than 100 bathrobes in her merchandise because older women were wearing them at home as lounge-wear or after bathing.
Nowadays, she only keeps about 10 in stock.
“People from my generation like bathrobes. Women these days want to do their work out, clean, cook, and pick up the kids all in the same clothes,” she said.
Sharon Malone Lingerie has transformed through many different iterations in downtown Sonora.
The business originated on South Shepherd Street, across from the Sonora Fire Department. Scott worked for the previous owner from 1978 to 1981, purchased the business from her when she left the area, and moved to its current location in 1987.
“I still go by Sharon sometimes,” she said, laughing.
Sharon Malone Lingerie has operated along with the original intent of the building as a millinery or fabric shop, but was transformed with the express focus on fitting services in recent decades.
Though originally intended as just an undergarment shop, the business joined in with other groups to fill space and offer a gamut of clothing services.
“Touch of Class,” a high-end men’s and women’s clothing retailer, operated out of the front of the shop until 1993. A bridal shop operated in the rear until 1990 and was replaced with another bridal, dress and fitting business which was in the building until 2013.
“We were a triangle of businesses,” Scott said. “We thought this was something that we could all make work.”
Scott said the business still sends out mail orders internationally.
The construction date of the basic Art Deco building — set with a recessed commercial entryway, a geometric and tile-designed facade and nine studio apartments on the second floor — is cited by the city as 1922.
The first-floor roof shows signs of water damage, which Scott said was due to plumbing issues with the upstairs apartments. During the winter months the building also revealed several leaks into the main retail area, she said.
An internal boundary set with pentagonal archways divides the north and south sections of the retail space.
When constructed, Knox’s Lace House sold yard goods, lace, women’s dresses and shoes in the south section, with a savings and loan company in the north section. Stucco on the inside wall was removed to reveal the original brick structure, Scott said.
The building is owned by William and Janette Holloway, according to city documents. Scott said the Holloways were related to the original Knox family who historically owned the building.
According to city documents, Jerusha Russe, the widow of Bruce Knox, a dry goods proprietor in Sonora, was listed as the owner of the property in 1923 after she remarried Robert Cross.
Kaenan Whitman, assessor recorder of Tuolumne County, said the current assessed value of the property is $369,137. The value of the property was not a good indication of market value because the assessed value of property can’t increase more than two percent a year, according to California law, unless there is a change of ownership or new construction, Whitman said.
In 1987, there was a 50 percent transfer of the property. A 50 percent transfer often represented a transfer to a sibling or to family members, but Whitman said he was not sure if that was the case with the Knox Building.
Scott was born in Stockton and grew up on a cattle ranch in Milton. She was married in 1958 and moved to Santa Barbara, where she worked in a car dealership and as a secretary in a private school.
She moved to San Jose in 1961 and Sonora in 1969. She raised her three children as a full-time mother before entering into the retail business.
Her husband passed away in 2013.
“With his passing, I’ve been carrying the whole thing myself,” she said. “It’s time in my life to move on.”