When most people reach retirement age, they do the obvious — they stop working and indulge in some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Not Ellin Millman, the founder of Millman’s T-Shirt Factory in the town of Poughkeepsie.
Millman actually reached retirement age almost 30 years ago, but she’s not interested in stopping work. She turns 90 in June, and until the coronavirus, she continued to be a regular fixture at the Poughkeepsie shop.
She makes it perfectly clear that she has no desire to slow down anytime soon.
“I like to be active and cannot just sit at home,” said Millman “I have to be with people. It keeps my mind alert and I enjoy it. I love the business and love working with the people who have been with me for many years.”
Millman is considered a pioneer when it comes to women entrepreneurs. The Millman T-Shirt Factory was established in 1978, when Ellin’s husband, Sandy, was given a compressor and heat transfer machine in lieu of payment. At the time, the couple owned Millman’s Wallpaper and Paints and The Price is Right Pro-Shop, which she founded in the 1960s.
So what to do with the new machinery?
“At the time, the wallpaper and paint industry was getting quiet,” she explained. “However, T-shirts — especially those with rock bands and funny sayings on them — were popular during the Vietnam War and we saw how popular they were getting when we were in Hawaii, so we decided to go into the T-shirt business.”
The couple found dealers for their T-shirt supplies and then expanded the business to include screen printing. At that time, Millman’s was the only screen printing business between White Plains and Albany.
“We hired an artist, bought more equipment and expanded over the years, moving to the 44 Plaza in Poughkeepsie, then to Main Street in Poughkeepsie for about 9 years and, finally, in the 1990s, we moved to our current location,” explained Millman, who also works with her son Stuart.
The business has been a success ever since, serving and supporting local sports teams, colleges, police departments, schools and nonprofits, and has been integral in the branding of local business throughout the Hudson Valley.
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Ellin Millman attended the University of Miami at a time when women were just starting to pursue college educations. She met Sandy, fell in love and moved to Poughkeepsie in 1953 where they married and raised their family.
“I’ve always been interested in business,” she said. She managed Millman’s Furniture store for her in-laws, Morris and Rosalie Millman for 15 years prior to striking out on her own.
“I learned a lot about business from my mother-in-law, such as problems come up, so you have to take them day by day,” she said. “Everything turns out alright eventually.”
Millman’s T-Shirt Factory has survived for 40 years, which means that Millman has been through the ups and downs of many challenges including several recessions in the 1980s and in the 2000s, the after-effects of 9/11 and the loss of her husband, Sandy, 20 years ago.
“Several other T-shirt businesses have come in and gone, but we’re still here,” said Millman, who has advice for today’s business owners, especially during these difficult times. “You will have good days and bad, but keep challenging yourself to make your business a success, no matter what you do.”
She’s grateful for the success of the business because it has also given her ample opportunity to pursue her love of travel. “I had a bucket list and have seen the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal,” she said. “I have been to all seven continents and I love to cruise.”
Her daughter, Jode Millman, says that her mother is the epitome of the phrase “Age is just a number.” “If you are a senior and you’re semi-retired and bored, get out of the house, do volunteer work and be among people of all ages,” said Ellin Millman. “You can’t become a hermit or a couch potato.”
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com