Mother and daughter Jean Turmo Swarthout and Rebecca Turmo
Juliet: What brought you to Woodstock?
Jean Turmo: My mother when I was 9.
Juliet: How did she come to Woodstock?
Jean: Her grandmother built a weekend house in Shokan. You know, like “The Weekenders” in probably about 1924 or 1925.
She went to girls boarding school as a child. When she became divorced she didn’t want me staying in girls boarding school. I went for second and third grade in East Islip at Hewelett School for Girls … We moved up here from Long Island so I could be brought up in the country.
Juliet: So, 9 years old, and then you graduated from Onteora?
Jean: (hesitates) Well … …that’s a little confusing. I was 9 years old when I moved here, I stayed here until eighth grade. I went to Peekskill Jr High school – where I might add – I was the only white girl ever asked to join the girls’ black gang. I didn’t know the difference between black or white because I was brought up in Woodstock.
Then we moved to California. We came back in my sophomore year. I went to Onteora until my senior year and then half way through we moved to California again.
Rebecca: My grandmother was a bit of a free spirit.
Jean: Yes. My diploma says “Onteora”.
I went to beauty school in California right after that, and then my mother decided to move back to NY before I finished – hence – I had to work.
Juliet: Was there always a home base here?
Jean: No because my Grandmother was dead by then. She was out of the picture by the time I came along. The house is still there – right across from Winchell’s Corners.
Juliet to Rebecca: Did you graduate Onteora?
Rebecca: No, I left Onteora.
Jean: No – (laughing) She went to California, separately from me! To Piney Plains. Piney Plains? What was the name of that town?
Rebecca: Del Mar for a while in Southern California, then Torrey Pines.
Jean: Torrey Pines!
Rebecca: I left home multiple times. I could not wait to get out of this small, kind of strange, artistic hippy town that I lived in. The last point that I was in California, I was 20. Picture this. I left Woodstock, drove across the country with two little dogs in my car and I was living in a small artist bohemian colony 90 miles north of San Francisco. Guerneville. I actually saw people on the street that I knew from here! So I ended up coming back. I thought I was going back to California to make it my home base and I realized at the end of the day that this was a good place to grow up. A safe place to grow up. And so it was a good and safe place for my kids to grow up.
Jean: Just like my mother.
Rebecca: I bought the small house I live in now, I scrimped and saved, when I was about 30. I’m pretty sure they gave me the keys to the front door on the day we closed. But I don’t know where the F- they are.
Jean: She’s never used them. She has no idea.
Juliet: What is your first memory of Woodstock?
Jean: I had been going to boarding school and we were brought up with very good manners. My first memory is from 1955 walking into the lunch room at Woodstock School and seeing the kids and how they had such atrocious table manners! (Laughing).
Also, there was a bakery on the corner that used to sell candy apples. It was where the real estate lady is over in the corner spot.
Juliet: Rebecca, what is your first memory of Woodstock?
Jean: It would be her first memory because she was born here. In Kingston. Benedictine Hospital.
Rebecca: I have one or two fleeting memories from our original house that we lived in and I was about two. My next memory I was probably about three. My mother and I were moving into the apartment upstairs …
Jean: Because I had gotten Divorced!
Rebecca: We are four generations of divorce…
Jean: Five generations of working women.
Rebecca: … and … she was moving stuff and I don’t remember the actual incident but I remember being in the hospital. I picked up a bottle of her perfume. I was 2/12, 3 years old…
Jean: Perfume from the Island of Jamaica.
Rebecca: And I drank it … and she rushed me to the hospital. I remember having…
Jean: Oh God that was the worst night of my life!
Rebecca: … having my stomach pumped. Very clearly and I can remember
A. Asking for bananas and B. Asking for a friend of hers who was a sculptor. David.
Juliet: What about Woodstock has changed over the years?
Jean: Really nothing has changed except for what has changed in modern society. There were only a few places open all year long. There was Mower’s Food Market, which is Oriole9, there was the Post Office, and H. Houst and Son. Most of the other stores closed up for the winter.
Rebecca: My answer to this we agree, Woodstock has changed but not really changed at all. And that’s what I think people don’t really understand.
Jean: it was a very artsy fartsy community when I moved here.
Rebecca: With a long healthy history of …
Jean: …very famous artists living here. I used to sell magazines to John Pike when I was a Girl Scout. As a matter of fact, every time I needed a sucker to buy something I’d go knock on his door (laughs). You’d get the twirly thing on your bike if you sold so many magazines. I’d just go to these artists I knew because they were pushovers.
Juliet: Smart kid. How did you get into this business?
Jean: I went to beautician school. My mother sold Avon. Now that’s one side of things. Then I worked when I was 17, starting at a Best & Company in New York. I always worked in stores and …
Juliet: What’s a “Best & Company”?
Jean: (Laughing) Oh you’re so cute.
Juliet: Oh no! (laughing) I should know this!
Jean: Best & Company was a very la di da department store. Old money, not new money like Saks Fifth Avenue. It was where the Vanderbilts bought their children’s clothing. Old money. It was across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. One of my customers was not old money but was Za Za Gabor’s, oh, you probably don’t know who that is …
Juliet: Yes I do! I watched TV in the ‘70s!
Jean: Well, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s mother would buy scarves from me. It was very ritzy. So anyway, I moved up here and I worked in stores. I was like 29 and I knew that pretty soon you got too old. Everybody hired groupie looking girls in skin tight jeans with great bodies to work in the stores. I thought to myself “What if I get old and fat?” So I figured I better open a business. It was like this Gloria Steinem thing.
Juliet: I just remember all the oils lining the shelves. That’s why everyone I knew came in. Was it that, or was it make up from the beginning?
Jean: This is a better story! I started with four shelves of make up, and I only carried cosmetics. There was a woman up the street named Miriam who had a store called Body Scents. She became friends with Albert Grossman. She moved around the corner across the street …
Rebecca: Into Just Alan’s building.
Jean: Into Just Alan’s building. And when she did, she moved with her scents … and Albert gave her enough money and she put in all these cosmetics. So I got really upset. Here was this school teacher, who had gone to college, and could make money any way she wanted. And here she was with this new Albert Grossman store and it was beautiful inside with a fragrance bar and she put in all these cosmetics. I was pretty scrappy, and I went out to her supplier. I got all the scents and ran them at cost. She was very high priced. So lets say she was selling a bottle of perfume oil for ten dollars, I sold it for three and I did it for about two years until she went out of business.
Rebecca: Yeah. We don’t take prisoners.
Juliet: What year did you open the store?
Jean: 1976 When I was 29 going on 30.
Rebecca: We’re going to be 40 next year.
That was in the original place around the corner.
Jean: In with Candlestock, half of what Candlestock is today.
The interesting part is when I started and opened up, the only store owner who would speak to me was Wahid. He had the store across the street and he sold hippy dippy clothes. Then he opened up the Video Store. Nobody would talk to me. He was the first store owner to speak to me because I had been ballsy enough to be a girl worker and get my own business.
Juliet: And be competitive.
Jean: It’s true.
Rebecca: One of the things that doesn’t change is Every 10- 15 yrs loads of people come up here because they like the idea of Woodstock.
Jean: And they try to make it Brooklyn
Rebecca: … or Manhattan, or East Hampton. They try to change it. They think the things that aren’t done in a more efficient manner and that what they see as a lack of efficiency they think they can improve. The reality is we are what we are and so those that realize it stay, and they love it. Those that can’t take the
“non watch attitude”, is what I jokingly refer to it, leave.
Jean: It’s like my husband says “Once they get mud on their Gucci loafers, they go back home.” It’s a very different life. It’s kind of a hard life. I’ve seen it from all aspects. It’s really squirrely here in February and you have to be used to that. Just like if you take someone who’s been brought up here their whole life and you dropped them in the middle of Manhattan. They wouldn’t know what the hell to do!
I came from there but I was young enough when I moved here that I’m really a country person. Even though I moved away and came back and forth.
(the phone rings and Jean takes the call)
Juliet: What is your favorite thing about being here?
Rebecca: Woodstock has it’s pros and cons like everyplace else on the planet. The freedom that I have personally to be who I am is something you cannot find in most other places.
Oh, Woodstock has it’s snarky moments. In general I have found enough peace in my life to lIve someplace where I can be free to believe what I believe and there may be a certain amount of people who aren’t the raving quasi libertarian socialist that I am. But I can be free to be who I want to be. Woodstock allows you a certain element of freedom and it allowed my children to be raised with a certain amount of creative freedom. It allowed them to become who they are. That’s what I like about Woodstock.
Juliet: How did you get involved with working at the store?
Rebecca: I helped her set up the first shop when I was a kid. Later, it was great when my kids were really small and they could be in the store with me. That worked for us. I’ve gone off to do other things I’m passionate about. But this works for us because … and I can’t believe I’m going to quote Hillary Clinton but she once said “It takes a village to raise a child”. Our store depends very much on the fact that we can all work a certain amount of hours. We all have different ideas about stuff but we kind of work as a collective as opposed to a hierarchy business. I like the freedom that the store gives me.
Juliet: Jean, what is your favorite thing about being in Woodstock?
Jean: My favorite thing – and I don’t know how to explain it to you – is that like Rocky could be a very high established citizen.
Rebecca – May he rest in in peace.
Jean – You can be really weird and be okay. As long as you’re okay in town.
Rebecca: We are a lot alike.
Jean: Why, is that what you said?
Rebecca: Pretty much. (both laugh)
Jean Turmo Beauty Products 11 Tinker Street Woodstock, NY 12498 www.jeanturmo.com