by Susie Zimmermann
After 25 years running the beloved Wake Up Little Suzie in Cleveland Park, owner Susan Lihn is ready for retirement. The “Fun Store for Fun People” has been providing its loyal customers with specialty gifts, jewelry, accessories, and clothing since the store opened in 1993, and is now holding a retirement sale in preparation for closing later this spring.
A Retailer for 40+ Years
Susan began her career in retail as a buyer for women’s sportswear at Jordan Marsh in Boston, a New England department store which later was bought by Macy’s. Ready for a change, Susan moved to DC and opened her own business in 1977 on Capitol Hill, a vintage clothing store named As Time Goes By. A decade later, the store converted into a gift store, Susan moved it to Adams Morgan for 5 years and in 1993 moved again to a space she found closer to her home. That location on Connecticut Avenue, now Wake Up Little Suzie, has become a DC landmark and drawn shoppers and loyal customers for 25 years.
“Suzie is a staple of Cleveland Park,” wrote Oren and Melanie on the Cleveland Park listserve when news of Susan’s retirement was announced. “We always went to Wake Up Little Suzie for gifts, stocking stuffers, and more for us and for other people.” Countless people added their own messages on the listserve and in person over the days and weeks, wishing Susan well, congratulating her on a well-deserved retirement, and saying how much they would miss her “.
Leaving her Mark
In addition to her beloved store, Susan has been a leader of the Cleveland Park Business Association–which she founded ten years ago with Firehook owner Pierre Abushacra and local architect Jane Treacy–and a dedicated spokesperson for small business and the Cleveland Park area. “Everyone knows Susan is the godmother of the business community and its most loyal and active fan,” said ANC representative Nancy MacWood. “You are irreplaceable,” wrote Ruthanne Miller. “You have been the rock and the heart of the Cleveland Park strip. Your items are unique and fun. Your place was always welcoming. You gave tirelessly to improving the business district.”
Known as much for the quality of merchandise as for expressing her political leanings, customers appreciated the many window displays that attracted attention from around the city. As the Obamas prepared to leave the White House, Susan converted her window into a wallpaper of more than 1000 handwritten notes from anyone who wished to contribute a message. The Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture even collected 75 of them to keep in their collection.
While retail is a grueling career, Susan has proven that even in today’s dominance of online competition a small local store can succeed. Her formula was based on finding one-of-a-kind handcrafted items and giving honest assessments to customers about the items they try. “I pride myself on that,” she explains. “I don’t want to sell something just to sell it. I want it to be something that my customers look good in and love.”
Staying around and looking ahead
Prior to announcing her retirement, Susan worked behind-the-scenes with Firehook neighbor/owner Abushacra to expand his business into her space, ensuring that her departure would not leave a vacant retail space behind. She plans to stay involved in the revitalization efforts among local volunteers and the Cleveland Park Business Association, while also enjoying time to do some of her favorite things–traveling the world and relaxing in Maine.
“Most of all, I’ll miss the people and my customers, and exploring and buying all the new things at market. But after standing on my feet for 40 years, I’m ready!”