Group keeps Swezey’s legacy alive
Pictured (left to right) are former Swezey’s Department Store employees Cathy Smith, Veronica Hart, Shirley Fetten, Shirley Werner, Patricia Sacco, Sharon Wofford, Barbara Rosser and Linda Sehz. Not pictured: Christa Steedman, Bea Peters and Bridget King, also members of the group.

SCN/Rohrbacker

Group keeps Swezey’s legacy alive

Story By: GLENN ROHRBACKER
3/28/2019


Though its doors shut for the final time in 2003, Swezey’s Department Store has remained a significant part of Patchogue history. From homages by current businesses to memories of the village during that time, Swezey’s is still a Patchogue landmark. And for a group of women who used to work there, it’s still very much a part of their lives. 

For 17 years, a group of about 12 former Swezey’s employees have been meeting every other month for dinner, just to get together, reminisce and share fond memories. What came from a casual hangout between work friends has turned into a 17-year tradition and genuine friendship. The group was organized by Patricia Sacco, who worked in the company’s Main Street office for 27 years. Part of her personality is hosting gatherings and bringing people together, and her friends recognize this was a natural path for her to forge. On top of that, working at Swezey’s meant a lot to her, which is why she keeps these monthly get-togethers.

“We miss Swezey’s and we miss the people there,” said Linda Sehz, 10-year veteran of the men’s department. 

The retail chain closed in late 2003 after years of financial losses. Reasoning for the close was based on competition from big-box national chains and online retailers. The original store was one of the Four Corners in Patchogue, and then moved to what is now the Blue Point Brewery building at the former Lace Mill site, just a few years before closing. There were also stores in Riverhead, Glen Cove, East Setauket and West Babylon, all of which were liquidated at the same time. The company’s roots, though, were on Main Street in Patchogue. 

Swezey’s, as it was known at the time and remembered by the former employees today, specialized in customer service. The women remember customers feeling welcome and cared for in the store, and still get those sentiments today. Just a few days ago, Shirley Fetten, a former manager who worked in the store for 30 years, was approached by someone who recognized her from all those years ago.

The women also remember feeling cared for by the management — being able to take sick leave, having flexible schedules and sharing positive relationships with the owners. The employees were also all friendly while at work, as well as outside of work, and felt supported by their colleagues. Many people who worked there, several of the women said, started off as seasonal workers, usually around Christmas, and then ended up staying, some for decades.

“They made you feel like family,” said Barbara Rosser, who worked in the store for four years.

The group gets together and talks about life, family, memories and more. They’ve been there for each other through sickness, death and divorce, but also through good times, children and grandchildren. As Swezey’s has become more and more a symbol of Patchogue’s past, the group keeps each of these former employees tied to a significant part of their lives. Some of the women have been part of the group for years, and others are newcomers, reconnecting to people with whom they shared a home away from home. Sacco keeps her eyes peeled for anyone she may recognize from the old days, and encourages anyone who worked at Swezey’s to join their monthly dinners. To reach out, call Sacco at 631-472-1162.