As the zany proprietor of Elsie’s Closet Vintage Clothing Store, Elsie Ritter Iverson regaled customers with the history of items she sold — with some tales dreamed up on the spot.
Her patrons ranged from Hollywood stars to punkers wanting anything black, and she liked to say that she gave them all “the red carpet treatment” — her carpet was cheap, but red.
“People like to dig,” Iverson would say when questioned why her Nicollet Avenue shop had apparel for sale without being organized by sizes, or even priced until someone asked.
Elsie Ritter Iverson, long a colorful rebel in Minneapolis, died Feb. 23. She was 92.
“She had her fingers in a half-dozen causes at one time, handling a consignment shop where poorer folks often came, pouring her energy and advice into it, and [showing] her insatiable joy in making friends and marveling at the random absurdities in life,” said Jim Klobuchar, the former Star Tribune columnist who loved to write about Iverson’s adventures.
Shoppers from Broadway and all local theater and photo companies snapped up classic vintage apparel at Elsie’s, said her daughter Patty Sachs Meshbesher of Minneapolis.
Iverson, known simply as Elsie by most, specialized in vintage hats, from the exquisite to the bizarre. They hung suspended by wires and strings from the ceiling of her humble shop. From time to time, she’d send a hat to stars such as Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds and others who visited the Twin Cities for shows.
She had an addiction for White Castle hamburgers and a penchant for telling tall tales straight-faced, then cracking up in her husky laugh, but only if others would.
“Without this place, trust me, I would be seeing a psychiatrist,” Elsie confessed once, wagging her finger, in a segment of TLC’s “Neat Stuff.” She noted that her patrons were drawn to “anything goofy, obnoxious.”
As a tap-dancing farm girl in tiny Wishek, N.D., Elsie once took the stage to play drums with Lawrence Welk. As a teen, she moved to Minneapolis, where she met her future husband, Arthur Iverson, and began a decades-long career as a waitress extraordinaire at fancy hotels.
When her kids were tots, she put a phone booth in her kitchen so she could talk in private.
At 60, she opened her shop, where the coffee pot was always on. She served day-old doughnuts she got for free to patrons as well as senior pals who came every morning, only to find themselves put to work straightening shoes or other tasks.
“She had the kind of good heart and genius for the wacky moments in life that made you run across the street to hug her, if she ever stood still long enough,” Klobuchar said. “There are not many people entering your life that are absolutely unforgettable, and in fact refused to be anything else. I’ll cherish her always.”
Klobuchar wrote hilariously of the time high-pressure doors at the Metrodome flung her into a cyclone fence; of her fight with City Hall over grass 2 feet tall in her yard; and about her mailing a 40-cent suit that she bought at a church sale to local tycoon George S. Pillsbury.
She ran her shop for 15 years until smoke from a fire next door damaged her goods.
A founding member of Blaisdell Women’s Club, she donated to just about any charity that asked. At 60, she bounced on a trampoline for 18 hours to raise money for charity, Sachs said.
Elsie was preceded in death by husband, Arthur; infant daughter, Catherine; five sisters and three brothers.
Survivors include another daughter, Laurie Lacina, and sons Arthur, Terry, Bill and Scott; 16 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Elsie’s life will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Church of St. Raphael, 7301 Bass Lake Road, Crystal. Visitation begins at 1 p.m.