A love of all things bright and beautiful helped shape everything that Sally Levin did in her long life, from creating a home for her family, to developing the family business, to helping her community.
Although her husband, Leonard, was the family’s official breadwinner, Mrs. Levin played a central role for nearly three decades in every aspect of the family business, Levin Furniture, family members said. In particular, she devoted herself to finding lovely furniture and home décor, designing displays, and helping customers make their homes as beautiful as her own, they said.
“She had this tremendous sense of style, and this beautiful house and these gorgeous gardens, and she really worked at it,” said her daughter Ann Levin, of New York. “She never drew a salary, but she really had a gift for retail and for design.”
Mrs. Levin, of Shadyside, died Saturday of colon cancer. She was 88.
Born May 29, 1926, Mrs. Levin was the daughter of Janet and Hyman Marchel, a shoe salesman in Mount Pleasant. She attended public school in Connellsville and Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she majored in history.
After graduating in 1947, Mrs. Levin sold women’s clothing at the former Saks Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, then moved to Mount Pleasant after marrying Mr. Levin in 1949. While also helping to raise the couple’s five children, Mrs. Levin began working with her husband in the family’s original furniture store in Mount Pleasant.
She helped write ad copy, shopped for furniture at markets in Chicago, New York and North Carolina, and established herself as the store’s interior decorator, both for store displays and in the homes of customers.
Inside the store, she arranged furniture to look like elegant rooms in a Colonial-era home, with traditional accessories such as brass lamps, grandfather clocks and eagle-adorned bed linens displayed alongside novelty items such as hand-made dolls and candles and bath salts packaged to look like seed packets, according to family members and employees. Mrs. Levin also transformed a vacant townhouse next to the furniture store into a boutique called the Colonial House, and she loved decorating the store – and in particular, its windows – for Christmas with Madison Avenue-style panache.
Her customers trusted her opinion and admired her taste so much that many have kept their homes the way she decorated them decades ago, said her son Robert Levin, who now runs the business. And his mother was a natural saleswoman, he said.
“She was easy with people, she was articulate, she was able to connect with all different types of people, she was persuasive, she was believable and she liked to sell,” Mr. Levin said. “She also did the buying and she was at the furniture markets so she knew the products, and she was the owner, so why wouldn’t you want to buy from her? She was the complete package.”
In addition to working at the store, maintaining the family’s home and her beloved organic garden, and raising her children, Mrs. Levin also donated her energies to the community.
She was a charter member of the Westmoreland County Museum of Art from 1970 to 1976, served on the Mount Pleasant school board, and contributed generously to the Mount Pleasant Library, where children still enjoy looking at the lighted globe she donated decades ago, according to the library’s director, Mary Lou Shick.
After Mr. Levin died in 1989, Mrs. Levin retired from the company and moved to Pittsburgh. She remained active in the community, with donations to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, City Theatre, the Carnegie Museum and Carnegie Library, and the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. An endowed fund for cancer research was established at the institute by Robert Levin after Mrs. Levin was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
She also was a benefactor of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, and contributed generously to Jewish Residential Services and in particular to its Howard Levin Clubhouse, named after another son. The program gives mentally ill adults opportunities to practice social skills that can help them find and keep a job.
“It was really emotionally satisfying for her to see them have a place to go and do meaningful work and be engaged in the community,” her daughter Ann Levin said. “She talked about that all the time.”
Mrs. Levin is survived by her brother, Jack Marchel, and by four of her children: Janet, Ann, Robert and Rachel Levin. She was preceded in death by her husband and by her son Howard.
The funeral will be private. A memorial service and celebration of her life will be held later this year. Contributions can be sent to the Sally Levin Fund for the Howard Levin Clubhouse in care of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, 234 McKee Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719