It happened all the time. Vendors visiting the Beaver Falls clothing store would chat nicely enough, but sooner or later, they'd always ask the same question: "Where's your husband?"
Mary Jo Young fired right back at them: She owned The Belladonna, thank you very much, and they'd have to deal with her.
This was the 1970s. Mothers with children did not work, and they certainly didn't work in the rarefied world of women's fashion, where there were few enough women to begin with.
But Ms. Young, who died Aug. 1 in her Chippewa home at the age of 84, never stopped to listen, building a successful plus-sized women's clothing business and a name for herself in the community.
Born Mary Jo Perri, the Beaver County native married Kenneth Young, her high school prom date, starting a partnership that spanned 58 years.
Though she worked at Armstrong Cork after graduating, Ms. Young soon left her job to start a family, as was expected.
But when her children went off to elementary school, she changed her mind. The Chippewa resident took on jobs as an executive secretary at the Beaver Valley Chamber of Commerce and Elmcrest Extended Care -- and that's where she met Mary Agnes Sisk, the next great partner of her life.
"Throughout our friendship, she kept saying, 'I'd love to open a little shop,' " said Ms. Sisk, who was a nurse at Elmcrest. "That was the furthest thing from my mind. But we talked about it."
And soon enough, Ms. Young had her friend sold on the idea.
Looking for a niche, the pair realized there was no nearby store selling larger clothes for women. Ms. Young had an eye for fashion, and all it took was one look at the dowdy clothes her own mother had to buy for the entrepreneur to make up her mind, Ms. Sisk said.
That idea grew into The Belladonna, which was founded in 1973 and would later expand to two additional stores in Butler and Dormont.
In the 1980s, Ms. Young also opened "Collage," a higher-end women's clothing store that also offered Ms. Young's advice as a stylist.
Male suppliers would often raise an eyebrow upon meeting her during buying trips in New York City, but many came to respect her.
"I don't know that she thought of herself as a trailblazer, but certainly the people around her did," said her son, Bradley "Jake" Young. "She wasn't marching with Gloria Steinem, but she was doing her own thing and getting some respect in the community for it."
Ms. Young was also active in volunteer work, helping start the Beaver Valley Executive Women's Council and working on the allocation panel of the United Way of Beaver County.
She never hesitated to mentor a younger woman, her son said.
In addition to her husband and son, Ms. Young is survived by another son, Douglas Young of San Francisco, and a granddaughter.
She never wanted a funeral home visitation, but the family suggests well-wishers send a contribution to the United Way of Beaver County, 3582 Brodhead Road, Suite 205, Monaca, PA 15061, or Catholic Hospice, 6200 Brooktree Road, Suite 220, Wexford, PA 15090, in her memory.
Ms. Young's sons plan to host a memorial in her home on a date to be announced later.obituaries - region - fashion
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497.