Updated: Oct 24
“I WAS SCARED TO DEATH BECAUSE I NEVER WORKED OUT OF THE HOUSE.
I stayed home. I was a mom.
We had four kids when we first opened Collins Center. They came to work with me every day, when they weren’t in school.
I knew nothing about working. But I just learned along the way.
That was 53 years ago.
I don't know that we realized we'd be here this long when we first opened. We were busy raising kids and working. That’s just what you do.
We had another kid, a daughter, after we opened. They all went to school in Milan. Three boys and two girls.
All of our kids spent a lot of time here. They used to have their bikes and ride all over town with their friends back and forth. I don't know why we had any customers because there were so many toys all over.
I liked it that way. I didn't want to have a babysitter.
John and I opened the Collins Center together. He was born and raised in Milan but I grew up on a farm between Britton and Deerfield. A girlfriend of mine had a birthday party and her boyfriend was good friends with John. He brought John to the party and that's how I met him.
When we opened up the shop there weren’t any interior walls. It was all one big open space.
We sold RCA TVs and electronics. We sold KitchenAid dishwashers and Gibson appliances.
This place was just full of appliances.
All of the kids got to work here. The girls helped me wait on customers and the boys always helped their dad deliver TVs. They learned a lot that way. I think it was good for them. They all turned out well.
We rented the space for the first year. It was a clothing store before we were here.
After a year, we bought the building. The man who sold it was really nice and good to us. We were young. He lived in Florida and didn’t want to have it anymore. He made us a nice offer. So, we bought it.
I can’t remember what year, but my husband started working at Ford Motor Company. He worked there for 28 years. When he was working, I was here and I hired technicians to do the work that he normally would do.
When John retired from Ford he came back here to work. I had technicians working for me then. One of them was here for 18 years. John had to learn how to fix the newer-style TV’s. They didn’t make those things to fix but John said they were fixable. He learned what was wrong and he fixed them.
People would bring him all kinds of things to repair, not just TVs. He ended up repairing vacuum cleaners, lamps, all sorts of things. He could fix just about anything. That took a lot of patience.
He was a patient, calm, soft-spoken individual.
When the big appliance stores like Ollie Fretter and Highland Appliance opened people didn’t shop here for appliances anymore. We stopped selling appliances but we have always done service and repairs.
We added things through the years that people were looking for and couldn’t get other places. Like guitar strings or musical stuff for the band students. And, clothes for cement geese.
That happened because of the two ladies who ran the beauty shop in the back of our place. One of their cousins made clothes for geese and they asked if I would sell them. I said, ‘okay,’ and they've just kept doing well.
There are a lot of people who have cement geese.
Eventually, I had to find somebody else to make the clothes because the first lady moved away. The next person retired and didn't do it anymore. So I found someone else. But they have always been handmade.
We’ve had two cats who have lived here.
Louis is 14. He's been here for about nine years. He belonged to my granddaughter until she went away to college. They were going to give him to the Humane Society because both kids were away and nobody was home much. The Humane Society said that they were going to put him to sleep because he wasn't adaptable.
I said, ‘Oh, no, bring him here.’
When my granddaughter graduated, she was going to take him back. She’s a registered nurse and got a job at Mayo Clinic. She said, ‘Gram, I don’t think he wants to fly to MInnesota.’
Louis has been here ever since. He’s found his home here. And he sure is popular with everybody.
That happened with the other kitty, too. The one in the picture on the wall over there. That’s Tiger. People loved him.
That picture was taken when Brian Auten had a photography studio upstairs.
There was a time when Tiger got out and we didn’t find him for an entire day. Brian thought we needed to get a picture of Tiger in case something happened to him. He brought a chair down here for Tiger to sit on. But Tiger didn't want to sit there. He kept jumping down. I put toothpaste the vet had given me on the chair. Tiger loved it. He sat there looking at me waiting for more.
That’s when Brian took his picture.
Tiger belonged to my oldest granddaughter but she ended up being allergic and was sick with asthma. When she found out she had to give him away she cried. I said, ‘Grandma will bring him to the store to live.’
I had Tiger for 12 years.
The way people shop downtown has changed a lot over the years. Now, what people are shopping for isn’t necessarily essential like it used to be, like things from a grocery store or a drugstore.
I have been here six days a week since we opened. Except for three months during Covid. That was weird.
I guess I just ended up staying here all the time. I told somebody once, this is where I am during the day. And home is where I am at night.
I've done it for 53 years. So it doesn't seem unusual to me. It is just what I do.”
–Sandy Collins, Collins Center