100 years of history! Learn more about Puritan Cape Cod.

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2019 /

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Dan Cutrona 

100 years of history! Learn more about Puritan Cape Cod.


Cape Cod Life  /  June 2019 /

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner / Photographer: Dan Cutrona 

A Tradition of Trust

Puritan Cape Cod celebrates its centennial

The world has changed a lot in 100 years. In 1919, the end of the first World War culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Rotary dial phones were introduced for the first time, as was the pop-up toaster. Women were granted the right to vote, Prohibition was implemented, and Daylight Savings Time was adopted. And another august event made its mark on the year: Abraham Penn opened his first clothing store, thus launching a Cape Cod institution—Puritan Cape Cod.

Three generations of the Penn family—Abe, his sons Milton and Howard, and the third generation, their nephew Jim, and Howard’s son Rick—have charted a course of quality and service that has touched countless lives over the last century. From the very beginning, the transfer of values has provided a continuum of purpose for the family. Today, with Rick, president, and Jim, vice president, at the helm, the core beliefs upon which the business was founded are still in tact and acknowledged every day.

Rick sums it up succinctly: “The values my grandfather started the company with in 1919 are still here today. He had a great saying, ‘I’d rather make a friend than make a sale.’ Today that philosophy has determined our mission statement: Earn the Relationship.” He continues to say that effort has three separate, but equally important, targets: “our customers, our employees and our community.”

Monthly management meetings always commence with a roundtable discussion with the Puritan team about how they earned the relationship in the past 30 days. Jim says: “Since it is the first item on the agenda, the employees understand how important it is to us. We don’t start by talking about the business, or the marketing, but how we have earned the relationship.”

“It’s one thing to have a mission statement,” Rick reiterates, “but do you talk about it, or do you live it? We believe we live those three powerful words. We are not a company that is big on rules, but we are big on values.”

Any interaction with employees of the organization immediately confirms the commitment has been firmly understood, adopted and successfully implemented. All of the associates have developed a large following of regular customers with whom they have a real relationship. Sue Butler, a familiar face in the Hyannis women’s shop, says: “I am consistently helping clients find exactly the right thing for life events, whether it is a job interview, or a graduation, or a gift. I help women and that is empowering for both of us. It is constantly changing and more fulfilling than I would have ever imagined.” 

Earning the relationship is not just reserved for the customers. Each generation of the Penn family has shown the same commitment to their employees, with many having worked at Puritan for over 10, 20 or even 40-plus years. Rick confirms the unique relationship by saying, “We believe our customers are our friends and our employees are our family.”

“I’d rather make a friend than make a sale.”
– Abraham Penn,
founder, 1919

When discussing the fashion retail landscape, the Penns explain their diligence in their efforts to stay informed and learn what works. “We are fortunate to belong to a forum group of 12 stores across the country,” Jim says. “The forum is  like an outside Board of Directors,” adds Rick, “where we benchmark ourselves against merchandise, marketing and operations, and where we all learn from each other.

The buyers for the store, Julie Penn, Rick’s wife-, and Bob Harrison, who has been with Puritan for 44 years, perform a herculean task of identifying the unique and sophisticated look that Puritan has been able to build as a brand for years. Their selection of merchandise subtly evokes a cultured and refined foundation not evident in the styles and offerings found elsewhere on the Cape. In fact, the buying team travel throughout the year to experience the marketplace, and return with a carefully edited assortment that is in line with today’s latest trends, but curated for the Cape Cod customer.  For example, the “farm-to-table” trend found in the food industry is similarly echoed in the fashion industry. “People want to know where their jacket is from, or who the craftsman might be on a pair of shoes, or a belt. So it is important that we fully understand the roots and the story behind the pieces we offer,” explains Jim as Puritan’s lead merchant.

Puritan’s selection is vast, yet meticulous, offering a wide variety of styles from today’s top brands. In addition to the sophisticated and on-trend selection in the women’s department that also includes jewelry, handbags and shoes, the Hyannis store has a full men’s department that is unrivaled in these parts, from suits to shoes, to sportswear, to their newly installed premium denim shop. 

A full-service tailor shop—an amenity that has been an integral part of the Puritan experience since the beginning—ensures that clothes are virtually made for the customer. 

A gift section makes sure a hostess gift or shower present is an easy procurement, and their outdoor shop has kept skiers prepared for winter activities, plus there’s active gear and clothing for the rest of the year. Across all of the departments, knowledgeable, helpful sales associates are available to assist, refer or fulfill any request.

“It is also critical to be relevant and to be current. We are constantly bringing in fresh merchandise all the time and communicate with our customers in new ways,” observes Rick. 

“Customers come in and they want to see what’s new, and one of the ways we’re showing them is through our commitment to social media,” adds Jim. Nearly five years ago, Puritan welcomed Anne Bellino to their marketing team, implementing a new social media strategy that is focused on customer relationships. 

“Social media has been an incredible way for us to communicate with our customers. We provide a virtual window into our stores, showing everything from new arrivals, to videos of Rick and Jim throughout the year,” Bellino explains. “The best part is being able to engage with customers—veteran and prospective—and sharing in their excitement on Cape Cod’s main streets—Hyannis, Chatham, Mashpee and Falmouth—as well as a Vineyard Vines partner store in Mashpee Commons.”

The Penns speak often about the “experience” of shopping at their store. This is not just rhetoric.  This year marks the completion of a six-year renovation in the Hyannis flagship store, just in time to acknowledge their centennial,  The renovations include major improvements to the interior and exterior for a modern look that stays true to the company’s Cape Cod roots, including wide-plank washed wood floors, crisp white walls, and modern hardware. 

Major changes were made to incorporate unique offerings adjacent to the store. Solstice Day Spa had been accessible in the lower level for a few years prior to a renovation that opened the flanks of the store to The Naked Oyster Bistro and Raw Bar and Rendezvous Café. Now, a trip to the Hyannis flagship store can stretch from a cappuccino and croissant in the late morning, to a bit of shopping, to a salon indulgence, all topped off by the fresh and innovative cuisine and libations at The Naked Oyster. 

But Puritan’s updates aren’t only physical. The centennial also welcomed a digital facelift, with a fresh rebranding that included a modern logo and redesigned website. Now, the store that has been side-by-side with families for generations as they dress for their most important moments in life is ready for the next generation of customers and will be ready to serve them in all the ways they have come to expect. It may be a new digital world, but the timeless foundation of service and quality will never go out of style.

A century ago, Abe Penn certainly was on to something. He placed the value of friends over the value of a sale. Today, it’s not hard to imagine he would be proud—three generations have been able to continue his commitment, and his grandsons are still welcoming guests and making friends.

Julie Craven Wagner

Julie Craven Wagner began her experience with Cape Cod Life in 2010 when she joined the sales team after 10 years of working with local businesses on the Cape and Islands with WMVY. In addition to sales, she is the Associate Publisher/Editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. Growing up on the Outer Cape has given her a unique perspective of life on Cape Cod, from tip to bridge, and that is reflected in her appreciation and presentation of stories found within the pages of our publications. Julie lives in North Falmouth with her husband, Eric, and their yellow lab, Enzo. When she finds free time, she enjoys her Cape Cod life sailing on Buzzards Bay, spending time on the beach in Wellfleet, or exploring Martha’s Vineyard.