Elsie G. Fergusson, whose Something Else clothing store in Mount Washington has been a destination for women shoppers in search of eclectic clothing that exuded style and elan for half a century, died Tuesday from septic shock at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
She was 88.
Ms. Fergusson died the day before she would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of her store, said her son, Ian Fergusson, of Alexandria, Va.
“For five decades, I believe no one sold more cool stuff per square inch of their retail space,” said Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum, who became a customer in 1971.
“Far different in style than retail style giant Betty Cooke, breathing the same air just down the road, these two style goddesses infused a level of creativity and welcome into their stores unrivaled to this day,” Ms. Hoffberger said.
“Elsie was a super-friendly and very spirited soul. She was diverse in her views, and her people she surrounded herself with were very drawn to her and her store,” said Sara Egorin-Hooper, a supervisor in the Baltimore County Public Schools’ Office of Special Education, who worked Saturdays and holidays for Ms. Fergusson from 1973 to 2003.
“The store was my home away from home,” said Ms. Egorin-Hooper, a Mayfield resident. “She took risks. She was a pioneer and an icon. She was the woman who started that business and built it.”
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro of Baltimore worked for Ms. Fergusson during the 1980s before opening her own business.
“There was nobody like Elsie and no store like Elsie’s,” she said. “She was a total original, as was her style of dress, which was totally original. Nobody dressed like Elsie, who wore a lot of different patterns and things at the same time but never looked clownish. Many people thought she dressed randomly. She did not.”
The daughter of Michael Goldstein, a butcher and grocery store owner, and Jenny Goldstein, a homemaker, Elsie Goldstein was born in Baltimore and lived above her parents’ store at Biddle Street and Collington Avenue in East Baltimore.
Ms. Fergusson later moved with her family to Anoka Avenue, near Druid Hill Park, and graduated in 1947 from Forest Park High School. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art.
She went to work during the 1950s for the Hecht Co. as a buyer of women’s apparel.
“She was mentored as a buyer at the Hecht Co. by Morton Meyers,” Ms. Hoffberger said.
It was while working at the department store that a co-worker introduced her to John Boyd Fergusson, a steamship captain who drove an MG sports car, and with whom she fell in love.
They married in 1962 and they settled into a home on Regent Road in Mount Washington. He died in 2004.
Ms. Fergusson opened a store in 1968 in the 6000 block of Falls Road, where in addition to vintage clothes, she sold antiques and Indian spreads.
She later moved to a Mount Washington schoolhouse where she spent a year, and then in 1976 to the 1600 block of Sulgrave Ave. into a two-story yellowish 19th-century clapboard house, with distinctive pink and green shutters.
“I first met Elsie in 1971, when her Something Else store was just south of Lake Avenue on Falls Road. It was a revelation — a cosmic, global bazaar presided over by its equally colorful owner,” Ms. Hoffberger said.
“Jam-packed with hippie and ethnic clothes and jewelry from around the world, Something Else also showcased the latest in young designers like Betsey Johnson and Zandra Rhodes. I wish I still had every item I ever bought there, but I wore them until they were threadbare,” she said.
“Bakelite galore, antique photos of partially clad beauties of yesteryear, Elsie’s store was a second home for generations of women and girls, many of whom got their first retail job there,” Ms. Hoffberger said. “Elsie ran it like a family. No one mentored or inspired young women to dream about having their own store more than Elsie did.”
“When you worked for Elsie, you became friends and family,” Ms. Egorin-Hooper said. “She was incredible, and the words I would use to describe her was that she was very bright, very eclectic and very committed to the causes she believed in. She was a free-spirited soul and very colorful.”
“The people she surrounded herself with were drawn to her and her store. People came to talk and and they were were surrounded by wearable and beautiful art,” she said. “It was Elsie’s spirit that kept the store going for 50 years. It reflected her identity, and there was no other store in Baltimore like it.”
“Elsie was tall and commanding and she always had the same haircut,” Ms. Shapiro said. “And in all the years, I never saw her wear the same dress or combination twice. She was a very discerning person who would rather have one of something than a hundred.”
Sharona Gamliel, a Guilford resident, who owns Paradiso on 36th Street in Hampden with her husband, has been a friend and customer for 45 years.
“She taught so many girls and women — generations of them — who came into Something Else how to dress. She was a great influence on women and simply had a fabulous style. She was a trailblazer,” Ms. Gamliel said.
“There weren’t many boutiques in Baltimore, and for years you knew if you went there, you’d find something fabulous and original. The store exuded creativity,” she said.
Ms. Fergusson was very supportive of craft artists working in Baltimore, Ms. Gamliel said.
“I was a craft artist and she helped a lot of people,” she said.
Ms. Fergusson, who lived on Regent Road in Mount Washington, enjoyed walking to work. She enjoyed traveling to Mexico and had filled her home with Mexican masks and art, and the paintings of the late Baltimore artist Joan Erbe, her son said.
“A famed hoarder, Elsie saw value and beauty in every card she got, every flea market find and especially in a wide swatch of customers she made friends,” Ms. Hoffberger said.
She was an active member of the Mount Washington Village Merchants Association. Philanthropic interests included the American Visionary Art Museum, numerous environmental organizations and the Hopewell Cancer support group in Brooklandville.
“When she strongly believed in things, she stood up. I always admired that,” said Ms. Egorin-Hooper. “She was always active in women’s rights and environmental issues. She was a true giver.”
“She was a fascinating person who lived life to the fullest,” Ms. Gamliel said.
A memorial gathering celebrating Ms. Fergusson’s life will be held at noon March 4 at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway.
In addition to her son, she is survived by a sister, Marcia Thomas of Columbia.