(Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
(Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
As a girl growing up in Madison, Lucy Dattilo always thought she wanted to leave, but eventually she found her way back along with some success as a Main Street business owner.

On Friday, after 14 years of running Something Simple, Dattilo will close the doors for the final time – making the decision on her terms with an optimistic look to the future. Still, it’s bittersweet, and imagining those final moments closing the store one final time brings tears to her eyes.

At 18, Dattilo went off to school at Indiana University in Bloomington to study psychology. Later she worked in youth group homes around the Cincinnati area. Finally, she allowed herself to take root again.

“Every time I moved away from home, I found myself being pulled back to Madison, so I was trying to find a reason to come back,” she said.

Eventually, her husband found a job opportunity in Rising Sun, and soon they realized they only needed an airport nearby. With Madison between Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville, it was perfect.

“So I wanted something of my own,” the mother of four said.

She began selling home decor items at festivals and traveling shows, but after a year with 11 rainy weekends out of 18, she decided it was time to find a permanent home. When it came time to name her endeavor, she started with a list of adjectives describing her vision and read them off to her husband.

“It’s like sitting on somebody’s front porch. I want it to be like being at someone’s house, like you’re inviting people in. It needs to be something simple. He said, ‘why not that?’”

So, she combined her psychology studies and skills as a “good gift-giver,” into the store so many of her customers have come to love. Getting to know her customers, who often feel more like friends, and predicting what they’ll want has made it enjoyable.

Those personal qualities, and some good stock are what strengthen a business to survive so many years and a recession.

“We sell things that make people happy,” she said. “We don’t sell anything anybody needs. There’s nothing practical about it. If you sell things that make people happy, that gives you a leg up, too.”

The happy – and the sad – are evident over the course of a few hours in the store on Monday. As more regular customers find out one of their favorite shops will be closing at the end of the week, their regular visit becomes a little something more.

“I felt like I was going to my own funeral,” she said of her experience reading through the responses to her Facebook post announcing the store’s closing. “All those posts and all those people. It was overwhelming.

“I knew I felt that way,” she said, wiping away a few tears. “But I had no idea.”

And though she sheds a few tears as her regulars ask how she’s doing, Dattilo says her decision to close is a good one — one she’s happy with.

Six months ago she finally decided to put the plan into motion and since then she said it’s been one of the best year’s yet.

For now, Dattilo has no plans for the next step or what it may look like.

“I’m OK with that. I’m going out on my own terms, on top. It was a good year,” she said. “I think what would make me feel even worse - if it was during a really bad year.

“That’s why I think it was such a surprise to people because everything was going really well. But that’s good, I’d rather go out like that.”

She admits, technology – including e-commerce – has been one of her shortcomings.

“Three years ago we didn’t even have a computer in here. It was always about the people on the other side of the counter.”

Of course, as a member of the Dattilo family, who has had a produce business on Main Street since 1929, business and building relationships with customers is in her DNA. From the look of things, this Dattilo’s children might be following in those footsteps.

When her oldest daughter went to a business school orientation at Springhill College in Alabama with her father, Dattilo was back in Madison at the shop. When her husband called to give her an update, she couldn’t have been prouder.

“The professor said, ‘OK guys, if you want to major in business because you think you’re going to make money go ahead and find another major’,” she recalled. “He said, ‘business is about service. It’s about service to others, and then if you make money in the end, then you did your service well.’

“She leaned over to her dad and said, ‘I already knew that.’ He said ‘what do you mean?’”

“‘Mommy taught me that.’”

“I never told her, it was just from being here... He called me, I cried like a baby.”

Sitting on the quilt-covered bed she’s found herself perched on with so many customers over the years, Dattilo said there’s been more joy than frustration and she’d still go back and do it all again.

She’d tell any budding business owners the same.

“I recommend that people do what they love. Life’s to doggone short. If you can figure out how to survive. If you’re barely making it, at least you’re happy.”