Hundred Years and Going Strong: Puritan Cape Cod

One hundred years is an eternity. It is more than a lifetime for most. There have been innumerable changes to Cape Cod over the last century. Beyond the drastic changes, such as television and the Internet, even basics taken for granted, such as paved roads, were extremely rare back then. For all of the changes, all of the people, places, and things which have come and gone, one Cape Cod staple got its start a hundred years ago and is still going strong. It is Puritan Cape Cod, a third-generation family business, which celebrates its centennial in 2019.

The clothing, accessory, and gift company, as Puritan is known as today, came from a humble beginning. In 1919, a small men’s clothing and shoe store was opened on Main Street in Plymouth by Sam Levine. Abraham Penn, at only 22 years old, would be brought aboard to run the shoe department by Levine. Two years later, in 1921, Levine would pass away. This left the fledgling Puritan in jeopardy. Penn, along with a new partner, Achille Maccaferri, would buy the store from Levine’s estate for $4,000, setting the business off on a bigger and better course.

Hyannis Puritan from 1938. Courtesy of Puritan Cape Cod.

Within a few years, the partners would look to expand the Puritan name to the fertile grounds of Cape Cod. Chatham was chosen as the location for the first new store. In 1925, Penn would open Puritan Clothing on Main Street, and appoint distant cousin Ben Shufro as manager – a position he would hold for 41 years. It would proudly serve the community as well as the local Coast Guard. Those sales would be huge in helping Puritan survive the Great Depression.

A second Cape location would follow in Harwich Port. The store’s main location and headquarters would follow, as the third Puritan would open on Main Street, in Hyannis, in May 1939. This store would take over the space once occupied by the old post office.
The root of the success of Puritan came down to a dedication to the customer and the community, which Abraham Penn preached and practiced. “I’d rather make a friend than make a sale.” These words were what Penn lived by and it showed. Penn also kept the business in the family. He would bring aboard his sons, Milton and Howard, at young ages, filling orders and wrapping packages.

In January 1952, Penn amicably parted ways with Maccaferri. He would focus his efforts on growing the Puritan business on Cape Cod, beginning by remodeling the Hyannis store. Maccaferri would concentrate on the off-Cape stores in Plymouth and Rockland. He would retire in the 1960s and, sadly, those locations would eventually go out of business.

Puritan Clothing, specifically the Chatham store, along with its manager, Ben Shufro, would be permanently etched in the history of the Cape during another famous event which took place in 1952. On February 18 of that year, the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker, had been literally snapped in half and sunk during a terrible storm 10 miles off the coast of Chatham. The Coast Guard heroically rescued all 32 crew members on board. At 11 p.m. that night, Ben Shufro received a call and headed down to the Coast Guard station. Once there, he stayed into the wee hours of the night, measuring and fitting each of the Pendleton crew for dry clothes.

It was during this time in the 1950s where Puritan was truly a giant, boasting 80 percent of the sales of men’s and boys’ wear on Cape Cod. Despite that, the Penn family never lost sight of what made them successful – the personal touch with great customer service. This included unselfish acts like giving one of the Hyannis stores’ Christmas trees on Christmas Eve to a customer who had yet to buy one, and occasionally paying the bill of a customer who could not afford to pay it.

The success of the first three Cape Cod stores led to a fourth in Dennis Port in 1963, a summer-time shop in Wellfleet in 1965 and a location in Orleans in 1966. These would be followed by a second store in Hyannis in the Cape Cod Mall, along with one in Mashpee Commons, bringing the total at its peak to eight. They would also expand from men’s wear by adding the Lady Puritan Shops in 1963.

By the 1980s Puritan Clothing on Cape Cod was considered a New England tradition. In 1984 alone, the business sold 16,000 pairs of men’s shoes and 25,000 women’s pairs of shoes on Cape. The now-25,000-square-foot Hyannis Main Street store had become an anchor synonymous with the downtown area. Still they remained true to their belief in customer service.

Milton Penn, Abraham Penn, and Howard Penn from June 1987, courtesy of Puritan Cape Cod.

Abraham Penn would die in 1994, leaving his sons Milton and Howard, and his grandsons, Richard and James, to carry on the family tradition. To honor the patriarch, the Abraham Penn Community Award would be created and given yearly to a local business which exemplified Penn’s dedication to customer and community service.
Today as Puritan enters its 100th year in service, the business shows no signs of slowing down. There are highly successful stores in Falmouth, Mashpee, along with the main location in Hyannis and, of course, the original in Chatham. The Hyannis store has grown to include an upscale bistro, full-service salon and spa, and casual cafe.

Third-generation owners Richard and James have taken Abraham’s motto and shortened it to just three words: ‘earn the relationship.’ The dedication to the customer and community has not changed; it has only evolved. Puritan has not been afraid of evolving with the times in order to keep thriving, and 2019 marks the end of a three-year renovation of the Hyannis store.

In honor of the centennial, there will be a celebration at the Hyannis location in June. All are welcome to come and enjoy the festivities and to kick off the next hundred years of continued dedication to the customer and community.

By Christopher Setterlund
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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