Sally Wigon sits at her desk at her store Wigon Office Supply, which she has run since 1951. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

It was 1951, and Sally Wigon had just taken over her late father’s Portland office supply store when a friend of his called her into his office.

“He said, ‘I don’t give you a year to survive,'” she recalled.

He was off by more than seven decades – and counting.

Wigon turned 103 in February. She still opens the store three days a week. Wigon Office Supply on Free Street – which has yet to get a computer or accept credit card payments – has survived both the Great Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Would she retire from running it? Not if she can help it.

“It’s as easy for the undertaker to carry me out of here as where I live,” Wigon said. “I love working.”


Portland has changed dramatically since her childhood – before the Franklin Street Arterial cut across the peninsula, when an ice cream cone from the corner drugstore cost 5 cents.

A drawing of Sally Wigon from 1949 sits on a desk at Wigon Office Supply. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Wigon was born on Valentine’s Day 1920 in Bangor, but her family moved to Portland before she turned 1. Her father traveled from Monday to Friday selling adding machines, and her mother stayed home to care for Sally and her older sister, Rose. They lived near Back Cove, and Wigon remembers crossing Forest Avenue with her sister when she was small to get a treat at Haven’s Candies. Her favorite? “We were allowed one piece a day. Anything.”

She was 12 when Joe Wigon opened the office supply store in 1932, at a time when the banks were in chaos and keeping a business open wasn’t easy. Her father was a charismatic salesman, Wigon said, “who could charm a bird off a tree.”

“We’d always have food on the table,” she said. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did.”

Wigon would help out in the store after school, often working the Speed-O-Print mimeograph machine. She was more interested in fashion than office supplies, inspired by the clothes she saw in the store windows when her family would walk on Congress Street and the snappy outfits her mother wore. But when she graduated as salutatorian of Deering High School’s Class of 1937, the store needed a secretary, so she went to work.

Click here to read more about April 9, 1937, in our archives.

She called her father “Mr. Wigon” on the job and would find him tapping his watch if she went a minute over her lunch hour.


“In those days, you never said no to your parents,” she said. “You always did as you were told. I had no hard feelings.”

The store sold paper products, office supplies and furniture. It had a typewriter service department. Salespeople called on clients all over New Hampshire and Maine.

During World War II, the business ran an announcement in the Portland Press Herald each summer to let customers know it would be closed for a week. In 1944, the notice read, “Our small organization has given five men to the Armed Forces and we do not have enough help to carry on unless we all take a vacation at the same time and close for the week. We hope our customers will understand.” In 1945, “We sincerely hope the war will be over soon and that all our workers will be back with us so that next year it will not be necessary to inconvenience our customers by closing the store.”

Women entrepreneurs were rare when Wigon started operating the business in 1951, and the men she encountered in her line of work did not always welcome her. She remembers an appointment to sell office furniture to Bath Iron Works decades ago. She arrived at the agreed-upon time that morning with a steel desk in her station wagon and a factory representative by her side, only to wait in the reception area all day for someone to speak to her. (She still made the sale.)

Sally Wigon at her desk at Wigon Office Supply on Free Street. The store has no computer and does not accept credit cards. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Wigon married Hyman Silverman, who was her father’s accountant. He wasn’t involved in the store. “He let me do my own thing,” she said. When their daughter was born, they hired a nanny for the weekdays, but Wigon brought the baby with her to work on Saturdays. To keep her from crawling all over the place, she would plop Liz in a carton in the window. “Once in a while, somebody comes by and says, ‘I remember, many years ago, a baby in the window,'” she said. Silverman died 42 years ago, and their daughter now lives in Delaware.

Wigon’s niece, Faith Charity of Falmouth, said she grew up thinking her aunt was “just cool.” Wigon was the first woman she knew who did not change her last name when she got married. She always had a stylish car – a navy blue Pontiac Firebird, for example – and would drive her daughter and her niece to McDonald’s and the beach on summer weekends (“like a maniac,” Charity said). When Charity asked her how she felt about product shortages during the pandemic, Wigon shrugged them off, remembering the days of wartime rations. At her 100th birthday party, she entertained the crowd with an irreverent song.


“She’s a little gruff on the outside, but on the inside, she has a heart of gold,” Charity said.

Wigon can tick off the names of businesses that have come and gone from Free Street during her lifetime there – Youngs Furniture (now on Diamond Street), Frank. M Brown (a hardware and paint store), H.H. Hay (a drugstore and lunch counter with two locations, one on each end of the street), James Bailey Company (a sporting goods store), Roberts Office Supply and Loring, Short & Harmon (competitors in the neighborhood). The Cross Insurance Arena arrived in 1977. But Wigon’s way of doing business never changed.

“I’m smart,” Wigon said. “I’m honest. I treat people very fair. And our prices are right.”

Today, the store is as straightforward as its owner. On the desk is a pad of paper order slips and a sign that says, “We do not accept credit or debit cards. Sorry.” In 1999, a Press Herald reporter asked Wigon whether she was concerned about computer problems at the start of the new millennium.

“Are we Y2K ready? Yes,” she told him. “We don’t have a computer. We’re very ready.”

Click here to read more about Nov. 9, 1999, in our archives.


The store still sells office basics such as paper, mailing supplies, tape dispensers, pens and planner books. The displays are not flashy but perfectly neat on beige metal shelves. The prices are displayed on handwritten signs and stickers, but Wigon knows them all by heart. Framed black-and-white portraits of her parents (Pearl and Joe) hang on the wall behind her, and her father’s name is still over the door.

“He’d never believe it,” she said, smiling. “I’m proud of that.”

Charles Kahill starting shopping at Wigon’s store in the 1980s when he opened his South Portland law practice. He became a loyal customer. When he wanted to find a distinct paper for important legal documents, Wigon took him through a book of options and helped him select one with a double red line down the side.

“It’s just a very good feeling in that store,” he said. “They’ve never overcharged. I’ve always been worried that they are making a profit at all, but she was so accommodating.”

“I like to think that it has continued because of a certain integrity and the caring way of doing business that is still appreciated,” Kahill said.

Portraits of Pearl and Joe Wigon, Sally Wigon’s parents, hang on the wall at Wigon Office Supply. Wigon, who turned 103 in February, comes to work three days a week. Her father opened the Free Street store in 1932 and she has been working there since she was a child. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In the 1970s, Steven Brown started working at the store as a 16-year-old intern from Portland High School. Wigon remembered his first impression as “cheerful and pleasant and never saucy.” He worked there for the next 50 years and became as much of a fixture as Wigon herself. Before he died in December, he was at her side every day at work, especially as she lost her eyesight and hearing. They did a crossword puzzle together every afternoon.


“He was very helpful to me,” she said. “He was honest and kind.”

In his absence, Charity and family friend Margaret Busby have been helping in the store. Wigon sits in her black swivel chair with a coffee from Dunkin’ and issues her instructions. They deliver their reports on the day’s progress from a leather desk chair at her elbow. One or the other will run out at lunchtime to City Deli, calling to get her approval on the soup of the day.

Wigon started running at age 70 and saw a personal trainer until the pandemic. She still does 200 steps for exercise, standing as tall as she can at 5 feet-ish for her brisk march in place.

Sally Wigon shuffles a bit of paperwork on her desk at Wigon Office Supply on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Her frame is small, but she’s fierce.

She won’t name even her most loyal customers for fear they will be lured away by the big brands that have been trying to poach her customers for years. (Kahill said he isn’t interested in making a switch.) She said online shopping has created a serious challenge for a business like hers, and she took another hit when the pandemic shut down offices three years ago.

The store is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

When she talks about its future, Wigon is as direct as ever: “We’ll end it when I’m gone.”

But she hopes to be on Free Street until then, never mind the big-box stores.

“I’m ignoring them,” she said. “I’m still here.”

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