ISHPEMING, Mich. (WZMQ) – Until recently, Paul and Sandy Arseneau owned the Gossard building for over 30 years. Their initial focus for the building was to recreate the one stop shopping experience the building initially offered when it was first opened in 1903. The original department store closed in 1920, and then a group of local businessmen set out to find a way to fill the building to support more jobs in the community, which lead them to a man in Chicago.
Sharing what she had learned, Sandy told us, “Long story short, they were told to talk to Mr. Gossard, who was far from thrilled about coming to this far north.”
They opened the Gossard Company in 1920 and it became staple to the community as well as the largest women’s undergarment manufacturer. Employing the abundance of women in the area who needed to support their family, many of whom lost husbands in the war or in mining accidents. It soon became a desired employer to work for.
So sought after, Sandy told us, “There are stories of young girls as young as 16, lying about their age, quitting school and going to work.”
With their ever-growing file of potential applicants, the big strike of 1949 didn’t hinder production. Even after reaching an agreement with the women to pay them minimum wage, their financial bottom line only became more profitable.
Sandy said she was quite surprised when she heard this until she learned why. She shared, “One of the reasons is because the Gossard Company had a contract with the military.” A contract supplying undergarments for women serving in the military.
The Gossard Company kept the doors open for over 50 years, until it eventually closed in 1976. The building and its history were all but forgotten until Paul and Sandy purchased the building in 1985.
Sandy who has over time become the historian of the building, wishes she had more time and told us, “The story, it shouldn’t go away.”
And with so much history left to explore, Paul and Sandy, close the final chapter of their ownership. Leaving the building they successfully revamped it to the business staple it once was. Ready for the new owners who say they plan to continue their work and another hundred years.
Although Sandy studied the history extensively, she told us she never could have done it without the help of two women. Elaine Peterson, who was known as the “Gossard Girl,” having worked her entire life inside these wall and Phyllis Michael Wong, who set out to tell the story of the Gossard women and wrote, “We Kept Our Towns Going.”