Business owner focuses on positive from the Valley with sweet threads and treats

GIRARD — Sometimes it takes a person who moved into the area to highlight the positive aspects here.

Linda Barton of West Middlesex, Pa., owner of Sweet Memories Vintage Tees and Candy in Girard, has done just that.

“I love history. When I came here, there’s a lot of hidden history. A lot of things that people don’t talk about. One of the things that was shocking to me is how people promote and talk about all the negative history of Youngstown versus the positive history.

“There are a lot of people that are proud of the crime in the community whereas I would be promoting Good Humor is from here. Klondike was invented here. Warner Brothers started here. Arby’s started here. Lifesavers were invented here. All of those things are positives that I would be promoting versus negatives,” said Barton, who moved to the Valley in 1997 from New Jersey with her husband, Scott, who is from Philadelphia.

She found another encouraging feature of the area when her daughter — one of her three children — went to Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley. Barton encountered such compassion and caring in the treatment there that she decided to give back to the medical facility.

“They saved my daughter’s life when she was young,” she said.

Her daughter was admitted to the hospital when she was in elementary school. She is now 27.

“I started the screen T-shirt business in 2008. In 2019, I reached out to Unilever, who owned the rights to Good Humor because Good Humor was celebrating their 100th-year anniversary. I asked them, ‘Who was designing their novelty T-shirts for their 100th anniversary?’ They had never had one. I was given a one-year, exclusive license to promote their anniversary shirts,” Barton said.

With the creation of the anniversary T-shirts, Barton contemplated a way to make a difference.

“When I got the contract for one year, I thought about a way to market it so it wasn’t just a T-shirt, but that it meant more to the community. Ice cream and kids go together. I think of my kids. I remember taking them out for ice cream on Sundays. We launched our clothing line in February of 2020 at Akron Children’s (in Boardman).”

A portion of each shirt sold goes to the hospital.

“Our first year, we only donated $3,000. The second year was $10,000. Last year, we donated $22,000,” she said.

Barton’s dedication to Akron Children’s Hospital is much appreciated by the medical facility.

“Last year, they dedicated a room to us, Room 247,” Barton said.

Barton began her entrepreneurial journey and her desire to give back as the youngest of five children in New Jersey.

“I had two mentors in my life. One was my dad. My dad was the hardest working person I knew. He worked at Xerox for 35 years. Xerox forced him into retirement. How do you work your whole life for a corporation and they just look at you and say, ‘You’re too old. You’re making too much money. You have to retire or we’re going to cut your pay,'” she said.

“It was heart wrenching to my dad and our family. My dad was a second generation Hungarian. We grew our own food half the time. He was a coal miner’s son from State College, Pennsylvania. We grew up with a very frugal environment but we never went without. So, my dad was my mentor when it came to my work ethic and living your life with a pure heart and giving back,” she said.

Barton also has a Catholic Saints line of clothing and other products at Sweet Memories that were inspired by her father’s suggestion to make a T-shirt honoring Pope John Paul II, who was canonized as a saint in 2014. The line benefits the Franciscan Friars.

“The other mentor I had was a former baseball player, who had a retail store where I worked as a teenager. He taught me at a young age to think like an athlete in business. Give 110%, always be competitive,” she said.

Barton said she asked him if he made money because he changed the merchandise in his store every couple of years. He replied that he made enough to get by and he would rather do that than work somewhere that told him when to come in and leave work and some day they could just dissolve the company. He preferred being in control.

Her father and her former boss’s work experiences influenced Barton to become her own boss and not work for a large corporation.

“I never worry about how much money I’m making. I worry about how much freedom I’m going to have. I can leave and go to my son’s basketball game. Every entrepreneur’s part-time job is 40 hours a week. I work 80 hours a week, but I love what I do and it’s true if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life,” Barton said.

When she started screen printing T-shirts, she made casual wear for anyone who needed them from band T-shirts to local businesses. However, COVID-19 caused her to pivot.

Barton had a license agreement to sell minor league baseball shirts, including the Scrappers, but the pandemic shut down the sport. She sold online, but later she put into practice what she had learned from her teen work experience — to expand with the trends.

“I had the T-shirt screening business and a year ago, I opened the retail store. I sell vintage T-shirts as well as vintage candy and games. I have 5,000-square feet of retail space,” she said.

Barton sees her philanthropic efforts as something anyone can do.

“If everybody who owns a small business could give a little, it makes a big difference,” she said.

Barton has seen the money she has raised with her T-shirt sales add up and has contributed to such diverse charities as the NICU unit at Akron Children’s, the National Packard Museum and the Franciscan Friars.

And she is not done giving back. Barton regularly looks for ways to benefit others. It’s her way of being positive.

“I’m always focused on promoting positivity into the community. I don’t want to talk about negatives.”


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