On April 12, Blackstone’s of Beacon Hill celebrated its fifth anniversary under current owners, Jennifer Hill and Mark Duffield. Friends and neighbors were greeted by concierges from the Liberty Hotel and given the full red-carpet treatment. More than 100 guests were on hand to celebrate and to help commemorate Blackstone’s rich past and its contributions to the Beacon Hill community.
In 1627, Rev. William Blackstone becomes Beacon Hill’s first resident of “Trimountain” –the area of Cotton, Sentry and West (Mount Vernon) Hills. Three hundred and fifty eight years later, a small gift shop at 46 Charles St., Blackstone’s of Beacon Hill (named for the reverend) opened its doors on July 10, 1982. Now approaching 30 years of continuing service to the Beacon Hill community, Blackstones has had a rich and enduring history through three generations of owners.
Back in 1982, founders and original owners Richard “Dick” Dowd, Charlie Murphy and several friends were all searching for new challenges. They settled on the idea of opening a gift store on Charles Street because at the time, “there was no place on the hill to buy a decent gift.”
Dowd, a longtime resident of Beacon Hill was born in Worcester in 1930. In 1959, he graduated from Boston College with a degree in education and later went on to attain a master’s degree in counseling services. He went on to hold various teaching positions in New Jersey and Vermont before deciding to return to Massachusetts. Dowd finally settled in Boston on Commonwealth Avenue and took a job with the federal government in the Health and Human Services department as a program inspector.
Later, Dowd and old friend Murphy joined forces in a new venture, the McLauthlin Elevator Company. They specialized in the installations, modernizations and maintenance of elevators throughout Boston. They would eventually have as many as 35 employees working for them. But it was always the thought of operating a gift shop on Beacon Hill that they began to focus on.
In 1982, Charles Street was beginning to change. A whole new generation of people was moving into the area. Fortuitously, there were several vacancies in the shopping district and thus an opportunity to fill a need. The vacancy chosen was 46a Charles St., which previously had been a Korean Antique Store. The other half of the building, 46b Charles St., was already occupied by Colman Electric.
“We were very fortunate for two reasons,” Dowd recalled. “One the price was right and our landlord, The Codman family, was friendly, generous, always on hand to help and highly ethical.”
Later on, Coleman Electric changed hands and became a small candy store. After a year or two the space became available, so Dowd and Murphy bought the lease, knocked down a wall or two and the Blackstone’s of today took shape. From 1982 to 1997, Blackstone’s became a fixture on Charles Street. For years they carried a merchandise mix of wonderful home decor items, men’s ties, umbrellas, walking sticks and leather goods, and exquisite glass bowls from Schlanzer’s of California.
1997, Blackstone’s was to change hands and experience a whole new look under new owner, Lynne Miller. Miller and Dowd had been friends for a while. Dowd was looking to retire, and Miller was looking to own a gift shop. In the summer of 1997, Miller took over the reins of Blackstone’s. Like Dowd before her, Miller’s path to Blackstone’s would be a winding path of geographical moves and valuable experience gained along the way.
Miller was born in Port Chester, N.Y., but spent her youth in Summit, N.J. She was later to attend Hollins College in Virginia, with which she has managed to keep a lifelong affiliation. Miller would eventually end up working for Brooks Brothers in New Jersey, where she quickly became a top seller, admired by management and loved by her customers. This would earn a trip to Boston, where once again she established herself as one of the best in the business. Miller enjoyed her work and, over time, built up a clientele that was not only loyal to her, but had become personal friends as well.
This was to come in handy when she took over Blackstone’s. Miller’s vision for Blackstone’s was to be out with old and in with the new and add a dash of bright color…yellow with white trim! The first thing she did was hold a gigantic sale and sell off the previous inventory for 50 to 70 percent off. Within a short time she had sold everything and began to brighten the store with a new coat of paint and began the search for new inventory.
Miller quickly filled Blackstone’s with, as her business card read, “unique and distinctive gifts.” She also concentrated on making Blackstone’s the place to go for all holiday’s and occasions. Now, the Beacon Hill community had the convenience of being able to shop in one location for weddings, birthdays, teacher’s gifts, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and especially Christmas. There was something for everybody at every price point.
Starting a business of any kind can be a worrisome thing, but Miller needn’t have worried. All of her good will, kindness and generosity she offered to her customers at Brooks Brothers came back to her 10 fold. When word got out she was opening her own store her loyal and beloved friends, neighbors and customers came out to support her.
“I was so touched by the outpouring of support…and honestly, I don’t think I could have made a go of it in the beginning without these wonderful people,” Miller said.
Among Miller’s many achievements and milestones, two stand out. She was only the second person in the country to take on a new line of ties called Vineyard Vines when the company owners of were desperately knocking on doors hoping anyone would give them a break and take on their line. Miller, of course did, and helped build the brand name to thousands of consumers when they shopped at or visited Blackstone’s. Another new product that Lynne introduced was Vera Bradley, which Miller said went “from zero to sixty in a matter of months.” It was such a rapid growth that Bradley invited Miller to Fort Wayne Ind., to address an annual meeting of dealers and company officials.
Between 1997 and 2006, Miller had taken Blackstone’s to a new level. Along the way, she happily re-kindled a love from the past with a wonderful guy named Richard Buckley. Before long, they married and planned someday to move to Maui, Hawaii. After nine successful years of owning Blackstone’s and facing some health difficulties, Miller decided to retire and turn over the store to a new generation of owners, Hill and Duffield. Happily, thanks to Miller, the transition was very smoothly, and Hill and Duffield were fortunate to have retained valuable Blackstone’s employees Bea Coyne and Bob Martin, who were both instrumental in maintaining continuity and great customer service expected from Blackstone’s clientele.
Originally from Stamford, Conn., Duffield went to Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. After graduation, he and some buddies went to Nantucket for a short visit, but Duffield never left. He stayed on and became a commercial fisherman. Making his way to Boston in 1983, Duffield would eventually become a director of corporate development at WGBH, a position he held for 12 years. Later, he took a position as corporate director at New England Conservatory. It was there he meet Hill, who had started her career at The Conservatory on nearly the same day as Duffield.
When Duffield introduced himself to Hill, one of the first things she mentioned – as Dowd and Miller had expressed years earlier – was that she wished one day to own her own shop. At this point, Hill and Duffield combined forces and opened under new ownership on March 31, 2006.
Hill is originally from Ohio, where she majored in communications and PR. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, she grew up working in the family shops starting at age 13. With her communications degree in hand, her career path took her to many places, including Charlotte, N.C., Basel, Switzerland, and Newport Beach, Calif., before she and her husband ventured back to the U.S. in 2004.
During her more than 12 years abroad living in Switzerland Hill worked corporate jobs. In her free time, she had the unique opportunity to be involved in the start-up of two not-for-profit organizations – The Professional Women’s Group of Basel and Centrepoint.
With four years of retail experience under her belt, she ventured into an old and new business as co-owner of KitchenWares by Blackstone’s, together with her husband Jim, where these two lifelong “foodies” get to release their dreams and love of all things food.
“One of the great joys of owning our own business is we never know where the next great product will come from,” Hill said. “We have found many of the most successful lines have simply walked through the door like Mad Bay Designs, a local made line of home decor and personally accessory items with an emphasis on coastal living.”
Hill and Duffield are now celebrating their fifth anniversary as co-owners of Blackstone’s of Beacon Hill and proud to be a part its long and distinguished history. “
“We are prouder still to be part of a wonderful community of neighbors and customers who have become as important to us as our own families,” Duffield said. “For us, there is no greater gift than that.”