Paul Secon

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Although lyricist Paul Secon authored a handful of postwar pop hits for acts including Rosemary Clooney and the Mills Brothers, he proved far more successful as an entrepreneur, partnering with brother…
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Although lyricist Paul Secon authored a handful of postwar pop hits for acts including Rosemary Clooney and the Mills Brothers, he proved far more successful as an entrepreneur, partnering with brother Morris to found the national retail chain Pottery Barn. Born in Philadelphia on July 13, 1916, Secon was something of a child prodigy, playing the trumpet, piano, oboe and flute -- he later relocated to New York City to pursue a career in songwriting, teaming with composer Louis C. Singer for Clooney's "My O'Darlin, My O'Lovely, My O'Brien" and collaborating with Arthur Kent on "You Never Miss the Water (Till the Well Runs Dry)," recorded by the Mills Brothers as well as the Sons of the Pioneers. Secon also worked as a music critic for the Boston Evening Transcript and as a monitor for the songwriters organization ASCAP, making sure that local clubs paid royalties due to composers. In the years following World War II, Secon additionally served as music editor for the entertainment trade publications Billboard and Variety. In 1950, Morris Secon (himself the former first horn for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra) approached his brother with a business proposal: Morris' wife had recently returned from a Rochester area yard sale with several pieces of stoneware designed by local artisan Glidden Parker, and on further inquiry, he discovered that Parker had three barns full of discontinued or slightly damaged products for sale. The Secon brothers paid Parker $2,500 for his remaining crockery and soon borrowed money from their father to open a storefront on 10th Avenue in New York City, effectively launching the Pottery Barn empire.

Specializing in contemporary housewares -- often factory seconds imported from Europe and sold at discount prices -- Pottery Barn floundered out of the gate, but a glowing profile in The New Yorker's "On and Off the Avenue" column was its turning point, and soon shoppers arrived in droves. The store's informal presentation aesthetic (e.g., stacks of dishes scattered in orange crates) proved profoundly influential on the next generation of American retail, and by 1963 Pottery Barn expanded to four locations: two in New York, and one each in Philadelphia and Boston. Paul Secon served as the store's manager, traveling back and forth to Europe to visit factories and trade shows -- he supervised his own importing instead of relying on domestic distributors, and passed the savings along to customers. Secon nevertheless grew tired of retail and in 1966 sold his share of the business to Morris, who in turn sold it to retailer Hoyt Chapin. Pottery Barn is now owned by Williams-Sonoma, and boasts more than 200 stores nationwide. With the money he collected by selling his Pottery Barn stake, Paul Secon relocated his family to Denmark, where he returned his focus to music, later authoring a musical titled Patrick X, which was inspired by the life of slain African American activist Malcolm X. He relocated back to Manhattan in 1980, and died in Rochester, NY on February 24, 2007. Secon's son, Lucas, scored the 1994 hip-hop hit "Lucas with the Lid Off" and enjoyed a successful songwriting career of his own, penning the Sugababes' "Virgin Sexy" and the Pussycat Dolls' "I Hate This Part."