All the world may be a stage, but it's still rare that I see a psychological drama played out within a business. At Briggs Ltd., a retail clothing store, the ghost of a father long dead hovered about his son, his voice as harsh and demanding in death as it was in life. It was time for the son to put his own stamp on the company; to do that, he first had to come to terms with his past.

J. H.

The day after he buried his father, Briggs A. Doherty Jr. returned to selling suits at the family clothing store. Already, he felt guilty for disobeying Dad. When I die, the old man had commanded, stuff me in a plastic bag, mail me to the family plot in New Haven, and, for God's sake -- his voice rose -- get back to the store and sell.

Maybe it was a sign of weakness that Doherty couldn't carry through with his father's wishes. He'd locked up the store and gone to the funeral. Not only that, but he'd given all 38 workers the day off with -- gulf -- pay. That was a first in the company's 40 years.

His adrenaline was surging now that he was back at the store. For 19 years, the sales floor had served as his stage, his domain; here was the one place where nobody, not even Dad, could ever touch him. He gazed in the mirror, slicked back his hair, and geared up for his first performance of the day. "Some people just go in the store to watch the show," says Robert Weigner, Briggs Ltd. Inc.'s accountant.

And, damn it, those people were not going to be disappointed. On this special day, they were going to join him in celebrating his own private emancipation. Now that he was running the store, nobody would ever be treated as Dad had treated him; he could never be so tough, so mean, so critical, so explosive. On the morning after his father's burial, Briggs Doherty Jr. knew exactly who he wasn't.

But he had no idea, none at all, who he was.

For years, he had been nothing more than his father's son. Now, at 39, he'd been abandoned by his dad on the doorstep of a $2-million business. "I didn't want to be Briggs's son anymore," he says. "I just wanted to be Briggs." What did that mean? He didn't know, and he had precious little time to find out. His business depended on it; so did his life. Ultimately, the quest drove him deep inside himself and drove the company he had inherited to the brink of ruin.

"I was terrified," says Doherty, now 45. "I just wanted my father to come back from the dead. I wanted him to save me."

Briggs Doherty Sr. always loved rescuing others, smothering them with his kindness. His domineering style came naturally, an outgrowth of his disciplined New England upbringing. As a young boy he once asked his father for $5 to buy a toy golf club. "If you waste your time on golf," his father warned, "I'm worried that you will never be successful."

Briggs Sr. subjected his own two sons, Briggs Jr. and Dan, to the same inflexible work ethic. At the age of seven, Briggs Jr. started working in the stockroom of Briggs Ltd., earning 25 cents an hour. His father had founded the Providence store in 1941 as a custom-tailor shop. As a kid, Briggs Jr. rarely saw his father outside of the store, which gradually branched into ready-to-wear men's clothing. But he could always catch Dad's eye by getting into trouble.

Briggs Sr. rescued him from every scrape. When Junior came home from public school with failing grades, Dad was ready with plans for prep school. In 1962, Briggs Jr. flunked out of his second college. Dad tossed him still another life preserver. Forget college, he said, I'll teach you all you need to know at the store.

Briggs agreed to start as a salesman on a salary of $50 a week. "He's not any different from the rest of you," Briggs Sr. told his employees. "He's just a salesman." It was his way of submerging his son's identity.

Mister Doherty ruled both his family and his company as fiefdoms. No one dared call him Briggs. His unpredictable behavior ensured that was always in command, if out of control.

Employees dreaded hearing extension 33's dyspeptic growl over the intercom. As it cut through the store, workers froze where they stood, amid mannequins displaying midpriced three-button pinstripe suits, blue blazers, charcoal-gray hose, and herringbone topcoats. Please, they'd each pray, not me this time.

In his early days as a salesman, Don Douglas was unlucky enough to be summoned. Get me some cough syrup, Mr. Doherty ordered. Any particular kind, sir? Douglas asked. Anything, he barked, anything at all. Dutifully, Douglas marched down the street to a drugstore, where he bought the latest in liquid cold medicines. He returned and nervously handed it to his boss. Mr. Doherty held the bottle in his hand for a moment and took out his glasses to examine the ingredients. He muttered something unintelligible about them, tightened his grip around the bottle, and smashed it against the opposite wall. As the syrup dripped down the paneling, "the obscene words just flowed," recalls Douglas.

Wisely, Mr. Doherty insisted on having his office door padded to dull the roar from his "chats" with employees. So you had a problem fitting a customer correctly, he'd begin, why didn't you come talk to me about it? He'd review the problem in detail, talking faster and faster, rising to his feet, louder and louder, until he reached such a violent pitch that he couldn't help stumbling over his words. "He'd call you every name for dumb," says Douglas.

Nothing placated him. Hey, Mr. Doherty, a salesman once shouted as the boss was descending from the second floor, I just sold out our whole stock of size 39-regular suits -- to one customer! How many sport coats? Mr. Doherty shot back. The salesman averted his eyes. How many trousers? How many shirts? The salesman stood silent. "For Christ's sake," Mr. Doherty sputtered, "anybody can sell 18 suits. It takes a real salesman to sell them what they don't come in for." You couldn't satisfy Mr. Doherty. But, as his son would discover, you could destroy yourself trying.

Employees who stuck around -- and relatively few did -- learned to live with his erratic behavior. They stayed because they earned a commission in addition to their salary. And they stayed because of Mr. Doherty's dazzling grasp of the clothing business. John F. Sullivan Jr. had worked in retail for 17 years before joining Briggs Ltd. in 1965, but he felt himself no match for his new boss. "He knew men's clothing inside out," says Sullivan. If a coat collar keeps popping up, it means the customer is square-shouldered. An open vent? That customer has an erect posture. He'd pass this lore to his salesmen, giving them an edge over salesmen in other stores.

His unpredictable mood swung both ways. After six months on the floor, Douglas proved to be a lousy salesman. But Mr. Doherty liked him, so he found another role for him. At least part of what Mr. Doherty liked about Douglas was that he had discovered him, rescued him in fact, and was controlling every aspect of his life. Douglas had come to the store with experience as a theatrical administrator. That gave Briggs Doherty Sr. an opportunity to sculpt him into -- voila! -- a master merchandiser. Briggs Sr. could feel any way about his employees, but one thing he always relished was rehabilitation projects. If a need person wanders in here, he instructed, send him up right away. He loved the power. "He had to control people all the time," says Sullivan.

Mr. Doherty's management style was like a vise that he twisted tighter and tighter. Employees didn't have to stand for it; they could always flee. But not Briggs Jr. Unsure of his identity and eager to earn his father's approval, he was stuck.

Years later, when the vise finally loosened, there wasn't much of him left.

When Briggs joined the business full-time in 1962, his older brother, Dan, had already been working there sporadically for about a decade. When Junior also signed on,he wanted to buy a house on the east side of Providence, but he needed his father's help. Too bad. Mr. Doherty had already decided that Briggs should live in the suburbs. But Dad, Briggs protested, I'll buy an older house and fix it up. Mr. Doherty guffawed. You? he said. You couldn't fix up anything! Briggs Jr. knew his old man was right; after all, he had heard it enough times. Rather than argue, he bought a house he hated and added rooms onto it, costing his father a bundle.

Briggs was completely dependent on his father, both financially and emotionally. "His father was so controlling that if we made any purchase, we always seemed to be explaining it to him," says Paula Doherty, who married Briggs Jr. in 1964. Mr. Doherty never accepted their explanations. "You spent how much on dinner?" he'd bark, shaking his head. "Jesus, Briggs, we're only a corner necktie store."

And his corner necktie store at that. Early in his career, Briggs saw enough dragged-out arguments to know that his father greeted other people's ideas with about as much enthusiasm as he did shoplifters. For instance, he witnessed a particularly memorable battle between Mr. Doherty and his store manager, who had worked for him for about 20 years. The store manager returned from a buying trip, having disobeyed Mr. Doherty's instructions. All ties, Mr. Doherty decreed, sell for $2.95 or less. The store manager had purchased a bunch of eight-fold silk foulards that would retail for $3.50. "You idiot!" Mr. Doherty blasted. "Who is going to pay $3.50 for a tie? You must be absolutely crazy!" When the ties sold like crazy, Mr. Doherty took the credit.

Briggs got nowhere suggesting that they carry more updated merchandise; finer-quality trousers, say, or European-cut suits. "We've been successful doing it this way for years," Dad would answer. "So why rock the boar, Briggs?" Dad, he once offered, we've got all this money sitting in a checking account. Maybe we should put it in certificates of deposit so we can get more interest. "That's a terrible idea, Briggs," his father grumbled. "And what the hell do you know about CDs?" He almost always added a comment like that, designed to dissolve whatever self-esteem still survived in his son.

Briggs Jr. wasn't entrusted with any decisions on the sales floor, where he spent almost all of his time. This salesman is no good, Dad, he reported of a colleague. He's not aggressive and, to tell you the truth, he's not even well groomed. His nails are dirty and his shoes are dull; I think we ought to fire him. "You just don't like him, Briggs," responded his father, who was hardly ever on the sales floor. "He's one hell of a guy. It's you, Briggs, damn it, you're too quick, too hard on people." Some employees stayed in his father's good graces by running out to fetch his lunch. Whenever Briggs pointed that out, he got lambasted. "I was always the one who was wrong," recalls Briggs.

Never more so than on March 31, the end of the fiscal year, when his father tried to trace every outstanding order. "Why the hell didn't you get after this customer to pick up his suit, Briggs?" he'd shout. "This goddamn bill isn't paid. Get on it!" Heaven forbid if Mr. Doherty found a dirty price ticket. "When are you going to learn to do the right thing, Briggs?" he'd bellow. "And what are you doing standing around?"

One of Junior's few duties was to close up the store and tally the day's receipts. Mr. Doherty neatly drained the task of any responsibility. Every night at 6:00 on the dot -- "our family dinner didn't matter," says Paula bitterly -- Doherty would call to find out that day's sales. The tense conversations could go on for 45 minutes or more. Who was in? What kind of business did you do? Briggs Jr. would sometimes give him a lower figure than the truth. "I'd undercut it," says Briggs, "so maybe he'd be happy the next day." But his father was too driven to be happy.

And too insecure to give his son the education he had once promised him. On the contrary; he protected his sons' ignorance. In the mid-1960s his longtime accountant criticized son Dan. Oh, really, Doherty responded. Gee, that's terrible. He fired the accountant soon after. Once, he heard that Briggs Jr. had attended a group meeting in which bosses' sons shared their problems. "Never go again," he ordered. "If you want to know anything, ask me. I'll tell you."

But when Briggs Jr. asked his father, he always got put off. Teach me about buying, he'd beg. You don't need to know that, Mr. Doherty would respond. When can I learn about merchandising? Damn it, Briggs, Mr. Doherty would shout. Get down there and sell, get down there and sell, get down there . . . and sell!

In a vain attempt to win his father's trust, Briggs made himself into "the greatest salesman in the world," by his own description. He inherited his father's good looks; with his cleft chin, slicked-back hair, and sculptured mustache, he resembles a matinee idol. His gravelly voice, though, belongs to Ralph Kramden, the bus driver played by Jackie Gleason on "The Honeymooners." "You look goddamn terrific?" he shouts as a customer walks through the door. "When am I going to make you a new suit? You look like a bum," he'll bellow to a man quietly browsing through some sport coats. He parades through the store, handing out cigars and cups of coffee. If he happens to see someone he knows passing by, he'll even open the front door and scream: "Come in here, I've got a new suit in just for you."

As loud as he was, Briggs couldn't shout out his frustration. "It became clear my father was not going to let any control out of his hands," he says. Upon request, he might take a monthly statement out of his desk and show his son the bottom line. Quickly, he'd stuff it back in a drawer and point Briggs in the direction of the sales floor. Briggs Jr. had no idea how the store made a profit, and he began not to care. The struggle was wearing him down. "It was better to respect my father's wishes," he says. "It was easier to back down than to fight."

Powerless and resentful, the younger Doherty's darker side began to emerge. He began telling his wife he was out learning the business when he was really planted on a bar stool. Briggs also started kicking customers out of the store, for no apparent offense. "That was a way I could exercise power," he says. "I was like an atomic bomb inside."

He eventually resorted to opening his father's mail because "that was the only way I figured I would find out anything," he says. On the front of the envelope he'd write, "Dad, opened in error -- B. A. D." As soon as his father spotted it, Briggs would get a call. Don't give me that crap, his father would shout, you knew damn well what you were doing. How should I know it was for you? Briggs Jr. would respond. It just said "Briggs Doherty" on it. Finally, he would promise not to do it again. "Of course," he says, "I had every intention of doing it again." He was still a helpless young boy, getting in trouble to catch his father's attention.

In the late '70s, after his brother went off to run his own store, Briggs Jr. convinced his father that he ought to give him equity in the business. I'm all you have left, Dad, he'd remind him. Finally, Mr. Doherty gave in, passing his son 25% of the company. Now, when Briggs wanted Dad's attention, he needed only to utter three words: buy me out. "I'm going to sell this goddamn business," his father would shout. "I don't give a damn what you do, but you'd better give me 25% of whatever you get," his son would fire back. "They would go at it right on the floor," recalls John Sullivan.

Secretly, Briggs was terrified of his total dependence. When his father was stricken by a heart attack in 1973, Junior rushed to the hospital -- and chewed out the doctor. "If you know what's good for you," he screamed at the physician, "you'd better keep him alive." That time, Mr. Doherty pulled through. But in 1981, Briggs Doherty Sr., riddled with cancer, was given 10 months to live. Dad's not going to die, his son kept telling Sullivan. Briggs, Sullivan said gently, he is going to die. No, countered Briggs, he's out riding his motorcycle, he looks great.

That summer, Briggs Sr. penned a last letter to his son. Thanks for doing such a good job, he began. But don't, he ordered, don't ever try to shove me out of my own business.

On October 17, 1981, with his family gathered around him, Briggs Doherty Sr. died at home. Even so, his wish came true. He wouldn't be shoved out of his business for many years.

At 39, Briggs Doherty Jr. had never confronted his father or himself. He had always adjusted his own self-image to his father's unpredictable moods. When Dad told him to become a salesman, he became a salesman; when Dad assured him he wasn't smart enough to handle much more, he gradually grew to believe him; now that Dad had deserted him by dying, he didn't know what to think. "I wasn't sure whether I knew the business well enough to run it," he says. "Or even whether I was smart enough to grasp what I didn't know."

One thing he knew for sure; he couldn't let on how he felt. If he had absorbed one lesson from his father it was this: stay in control. Always. So just after the funeral, when customers came by to offer their condolences, Doherty was back on the sales floor, turning it into a big production. You know, he'd tell them with a wink, I was left $47 million. Then he'd fall to his knees, all 6'1" and 175 pounds of him. He'd crawl on his knees until he faced his father's portrait. Crossing himself, he'd clasp his hands in mock prayer. "Thank you, Father," he'd say, "thank you for this $47 million, thank you for this wonderful legacy you have left me."

Customers loved it -- the notion that he didn't need them to buy anything just made them want to buy more. It was a tribute his father would have loved, too -- converting their sympathy into sales. Not that the tributes stopped there. His father's death exaggerated all the conflicting feelings Briggs had for him. There was Dad the genius, the all-knowing purveyor of midpriced men's clothing, a businessman who was respected, feared, and rich -- a man Briggs loved. In his honor, Briggs had a local tennis court dedicated. He launched a scholarship fund in his father's name.

Then there was Dad the tyrant, the explosive boss who spread misery every day of his life and ensured that "my confidence level was about as big as the head of a pin." Briggs was angry at the tyrant. Now that he needed him, where the hell was he? On his first buying sojourn to New York City, Briggs spent most of three days wandering aimlessly, lost and looking for his supplies. "Before," he says, "Dad walked and I followed three steps behind."

And where was Dad now that Briggs had to make all of these merchandising decisions? Should he consider the $25 ties he was seeing? In my store, he heard his father say, we'll never sell a tie above $15. Once supplier suggested Doherty start carrying some $400 English-made suits, about $150 more than any of the suits Dad had sold. For Pete's sake, Briggs, this is Providence, not Rodeo Drive! Then there were the $495 Canadian topcoats. You're crazy, Briggs, nobody will buy those. His father's voice was inside of him, but who was speaking? Was it the genius? The tyrant? Where was his own voice buried? "I really did not know what was right and what was wrong," says Doherty. "I'd figure, 'I can do anything I want,' then 'I should do what my father would do.' I wanted him to come back and decide."

Beyond any specific decision, though, was that nagging refrain that ran through his mind: If you want to help the store, damn it, get out there and sell When Doherty spent a day on the phone with suppliers, he went home depressed. He didn't know why, but he felt as if he were barely hanging on. Many mornings, he'd leave the house at 6:00 a.m., driving to work with tears in his eyes. I don't think this is going to work, he'd think; Lord, I hope I can make it through the day. Control, son, stay in control. The strain was killing him, and his body showed it. In the months after his father's death, his weight ballooned 90 pounds. He always seemed to be on his way to or from the hospital with one ailment or another. "I was miserable," he says. "I knew I had to fix myself, but I didn't know how."

To cover up his sadness, Briggs began spending money. He bought himself a Jaguar. You spent how much? He bought his wife a full-length mink and himself a coyote coat. Briggs, we're only a corner necktie store! In December 1982, he bought a nineteenth-century three-story brick building and moved his store into it. We're only rag peddlers, Briggs, that's all we know. No, Briggs thought, I'm going into real estate. And I'll design the store just the way I want, spend $500,000 decorating it, including antiques. We threw that crap away years ago.

What I really need to do, Briggs thought, is get rid of the people who don't believe in me. It's not them, Briggs, it's you. They're undermining me. Don't pick on them! I have to take control. In May 1984, Briggs decided to fire seven employees. One by one, he called them into his office. With Sullivan at his side, he thanked them for their years of service -- What the hell do you think you're doing? -- shook their hands, and ushered them out the door.

With 5,600 square feet of selling space, Briggs now had 70% more space than in the old store, and three floors instead of one. In my store, he thought, I'm going to make decisions my way; which meant, really, just not doing things his father's way.

So he began buying expensive merchandise, all the stuff his father had pooh-poohed. How about some Oxxford suits (starting price: $1,000)? Sure. How about oversized European sweaters? Send them over. How about those stylish suits, with the wider lapels and extended shoulders? Got to have them. With no knowledge of how to run the business, Briggs could only guess on quantities. "I bought on instinct, and I was ordering enough for six stores," he says.

And the wrong kind of merchandise at that. In his father's days, most of the suits sold for less than $300. Soon, 75% sold for more than $500. Doherty wasn't comfortable with reading the monthly reports, so he didn't realize that the more expensive items carried a lower markup. Unwittingly, he was sanding his margins down to nothing. There was no one to pull him back. His accountant, a holdover from his father's days, simply agreed with whatever Briggs said. He knew that Briggs Sr. had fired his predecessor for speaking up. Besides, Briggs Sr. had left behind a very profitable company; reversing its fortunes would take longer than this.

Not much longer, though. For the sake of finally rebelling against his father, Briggs was on his way to destroying the company. The real Briggs Doherty Jr., when he emerged, would be like his father in some ways, and unlike him in others. But he was not yet ready to become his own man; he could only become the man he knew how to be.

And that man, of course, was his father.

It was" recalls Paula Doherty, "like a different person started coming out of his body."

Desperately afraid of failing, and unable to locate his own inner voice, Briggs turned into the one person he was trying to avoid becoming. "To be as successful as his father, Briggs became his father," explains Sullivan.

The tirades commenced as soon as he got in, at 6:15 a.m. What's that paper doing on the floor? Why is there lint on that suit? Who's responsible for that tie, the twisted one in the window? You can't trust them, Briggs. If Sullivan came in fifteen minutes later, that would set Briggs off. Often Sullivan would quit, stomping out to his car and driving off. When he cooled down, Briggs would call him up and ask him back.

The next morning, Briggs would be raving again. Maybe a light bulb had burned out, or some dust lingered; the rages never seemed to end. Briggs would scream so long and loud, he could feel the veins in his face popping, the pressure building in his chest. He'd screech at the female office workers, then send them flowers or candy the next day. That'll keep them quiet. The sales staff turned over at a breakneck pace. "If you closed your eyes," says Sullivan, "you would think he was Mr. Doherty."

Briggs was only slightly better at home. Paula learned to pick up the smallest shift in his voice that might indicate whether a northeaster was heading her way. If he sounded depressed, "I kept very quiet. Anything might trigger an explosion," she says. Mostly, he came home sullen and sulky. "We didn't hear that much of the yelling and screaming," she says.

Like his father, Briggs identified with the helpless. He felt that way himself inside. So one day, when he got to talking with a young man with a chemical-dependency problem, Briggs offered to take him to a self-help group.

They drove to a local hospital. Briggs felt good inside; he still thought he was doing this for the boy's sake. They entered a room in which about 40 people were seated around a table. Briggs recognized one of the faces. "How are you?" he boomed. "Great to see you." The man nodded back. Poor guy, Briggs thought, that poor, poor guy. He pulled out a chair for his companion, then sat down beside him. He unwrapped one of his favorite cigars, a handrolled Macanudo. The perfect after-dinner smoke, Briggs thought, and he deserved it tonight. Here he was giving his own time -- his very, very precious time -- to rescue this lost soul. This was, he soon learned, a discussion meeting. People were going to get up, one at a time, right in front of everybody, and hang out their miseries. A young male alcoholic agreed to start.

He began by talking about a friend of his who had not had a drink in nine years. But it didn't make the guy any better. He was still impossible to get along with, subject to unpredictable tantrums, haunted by an empty feeling inside. As he listened, Briggs grew madder and madder; who did this young man think he was, anyway? And what the hell was he doing up there, telling Briggs's story? Now he was sorry he had ever come.

He leapt from his seat, took the cigar from his mouth and pointed it at the young man. "You have one hell of a nerve talking about me, when you don't even know me," he growled. What is this, anyway, he thought, some kind of practical joke?

Briggs looked around the table. Nobody was laughing. Maybe this is your story, the speaker said, but it is mine, too. My story? Briggs thought. Who the hell do you think you're talking to? Fuming, he settled back in his seat without saying a word. "I knew I had just better shut up," he says. Briggs Doherty was hearing something new, a living voice, long ago stepped on and squashed. He suddenly felt helpless and frightened. "On the way home, I knew I had found something," recalls Briggs. "I didn't know what it was."

But that night, he says, "something hit me." Unlike the young man at the meeting, he had never told anyone about his suffering. He had never admitted how inferior he felt. "I suddenly realized that if you don't ask anybody to fix it, and you don't let anybody know that you are ready to explode, nobody can help you," he says.

The next day, Briggs came home from work around noon. Come for a walk with me, he said to his wife, I have something to tell you. He told her about the man at the meeting. "All that yelling and screaming doesn't only hurt other people," says Briggs. "It hurts you. I realized that it was leading me to death. I had to change."

Now, Paula could see his pain. "He was hating what he was seeing in himself," she says, "the anguish, the exasperation, the eating people up alive. I told him, 'Do what you have to do."

Briggs Doherty Jr. spent the first 40-old years of his life reacting to his father. The dad, the genius, the tyrant, the ghost. But four years after his father's death, says Briggs, "I decided it was time for me to let him die."

In April 1985, not long after the self-help meeting, he asked his wife to come work at the store. With her background in retailing, Paula was more of a logical choice than an emotional one. In fact, Briggs Sr. had never much cared for her independent spirit. Once, during a dinner conversation about -- what else? -- the business, Briggs Sr. was boasting about his handling of a difficult employee. "What do you think of what I did?" he asked Paula, expecting her to defer, as he thought ladies should. She told him she thought he was wrong. He slammed his palm on the table, rattling the dishes, and shouted at Briggs, "Keep her the Christ out of the business!"

Maybe his father wouldn't have stood for it, but Briggs knew he needed her help. "I began to see that Briggs Doherty alone couldn't make this succeed," he says. Around the same time, he revived yet another idea that his father had loudly rejected: he opened Lady Briggs, a clothing department geared for career women. His father felt women ruined the ambience; he wanted his store to feel like an English men's club.

Quickly but quietly, Paula started working, careful not to steal any of the spotlight that shone on her husband. "I'm a strong part of the business," she says, "but he's the show." She took over backstage, where Briggs Sr. had toiled, tracking down receivables, handling bank deposits, and cleaning up the books. For her first year, she even drove to work every day in Briggs Sr.'s 1973 Mercedes. "I'd get in the car every morning and I'd say, 'Well, I'm going down to your store," she recalls. "I knew he would have had a fit." Thomas Davidow, a psychologist who has worked with Briggs, says that "the ghost of Briggs Sr. shines in its most terrorizing visage around the legitimacy of Paula's involvement."

Some days, Paula felt Briggs Sr. hovering. "Every time I answered the phone," she recalls, "I expected his father to be on the other end saying, 'What the hell are you doing in my business?" Earlier this year, Briggs officially made Paula the company's business manager. "I'm learning that I have the ability to listen and to see what's right and what's wrong," says Briggs. "I'm doing things that I want to do."

With the Providence store generating about $4 million in sales, Briggs plans to open a few more outlets within the next two years. He expects that one of his two daughters will take over the business some day -- For Christ's sake, Briggs, a woman running the shop? -- though he is insisting both of them work outside the business first. "I want them to come with fresh ideas," he says, sounding very much unlike his father.

For now, they help out in the store from time to time. On a recent Sunday, Briggs and one of his daughters were on their way to the store when they stopped off at the cemetery. Briggs wanted to make sure the flowers he had ordered for his father's grave had come in. He fussed around the headstone, rearranging the flowers. Finished, he lingered for a moment.

"You know," he said, addressing no one in particular, "it seems like Dad has been dead forever."