Norma Duncan vividly remembers Joe Lipsitz walking out of his store with shoes in hand, kneeling by a car at curbside and carefully fitting a customer who was too inform to walk inside.
The owner of Lipsitz Department Store in downtown Beaufort was "the heart of Bay Street," she said.
Joe Lipsitz died early Thursday after years of battling Alzheimer's disease, his family said. He was 93.
Funeral arrangements will be handled by Anderson Funeral Home and Crematory.
"Joe to me will always be the brick and mortar of Bay Street," said Duncan, a close family friend for seven decades. "When I think about Joe, I think about him standing on the street corner holding court, because he'd stand out there and stop anyone who would talk to him."
Most everyone who grew up in Beaufort has a story about Lipsitz, whether it was an act of kindness, help finding the perfect shoe or something hysterical uttered by Lippy, the mynah bird who entertained the customers.
"One nickname he had was the mayor of Bay Street, even though he never held any political office," son Neil Lipsitz said Thursday.
Even as the Alzheimer's progressed, Duncan said, the store and memories of working there seemed fresh in his mind. She visited him at least once a month after he moved to Walterboro. When he was unsettled, she could calm him and unleash an extended conversation with a simple prompt: " 'All right Joe, let's talk about Beaufort.'
"And that's all I had to say."
Located at 825 Bay St., Lipsitz Department Store was a downtown institution for more than a century. In 1945, Joe Lipsitz and his siblings took over the store their father opened in 1902. It remained in business until February 2009, closing after Alzheimer's had forced Joe Lipsitz into a Veterans Administration nursing home the preceding winter.
Daughters Judy Thornberry and Sandy Mendel said their father always had "a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face."
They, along with brothers Neil and Barry, grew up working in the store alongside their parents. In 1955, Joe married Lucille Bass, now 83, and she quickly became "Mrs. Lipsitz Department Store," her children joked.
The children recalled fondly the time a woman came to the store in need of a bra. Joe Lipsitz asked what size.
And the cup size?
The woman lifted her blouse so he could see for himself, and Joe Lipsitz turned and ran.
"His face was just as red as red could be," Neil Lipsitz said, laughing.
Except for a stint in the Army during World War II, running the store was the only job Joe Lipsitz ever worked. And because of his short stature -- he stood 5 feet, 4 inches -- he had to repeatedly attempt to enlist before finally being accepted by the military, Neil Lipsitz said. "He was very hard-headed once he made up his mind."
But, Thornberry said, the Army didn't have a uniform or shoes in his size and had to special order them. Lipsitz later spent much of his life finding shoes for customers' hard-to-fit feet.
One of Thornberry's fondest memory of her father was the jangle of his heavy key ring.
"My first fish I ever caught was on the marina dock, and it was a flounder, and flounders really fight," she said. Struggling to pull the fish in, she shouted for help. "I remember yelling, 'Dad, Dad, Dad,' and all I heard were keys rattling as he came running."
Joe Lipsitz would go above and beyond for customers and neighbors. Barry Lipsitz remembers his dad opening the store on a Sunday, just to get a tie for a man heading to a funeral.
When there was a house fire or someone was in need, Neil Lipsitz remembers his parents packing up clothing, household items and other useful things to quietly drop off for the struggling family.
"We were brought up to respect others, to help others, to treat people the way we wanted to be treated," Mendel said. "It was just something Dad instilled in all of us."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
- Restoring a building and memories at Beaufort's Lipsitz department store, Oct. 6, 2012
- A reluctant goodbye to a business institution, March 17, 2009
- Lipsitz: The long history and last hours of a Bay Street landmark, March 5, 2009