Stylist John Buhrman was a 'Lyon' for Chambersburg
The fashion salesman, who later became court crier in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, would have turned 70 on March 1.
Stylemaker. Weaver of the fabric of the community. A champion of Chambersburg. An everlasting friend.
These are a few of the ways people described John Buhrman, who became a staple of the community over his 49 years working at Lyons and Co. on South Main Street.
He was on the brink of what could have been an exciting period when he died unexpectedly of natural causes on Feb. 21, eight days shy of his 70th birthday on March 1.
"He was excited to be turning 70, excited to be celebrating that milestone," said his daughter, Kyle Shover.
A family dinner was on the books. A number of others had their own plans with their friend. Shover is among many coping with Buhrman's sudden death.
"You need to tell your loved ones now all the things you want to say but never say," she said.
Who was John Buhrman?
"He had a huge impact on the community," said Phillip Whitley, a photographer who was friends with Buhrman for 15 years and saw him as an "honorary uncle." "I feel like everyone who grew up in Chambersburg knew who he was, of all ages. Working years at Lyons, he's dressed so many of us in the town. He helped us refine our style and picked pieces that were timeless."
Buhrman developed a long list of clients through his years working at Lyons. He became an expert on fabric and fit, but even more so he was a master at building relationships.
"His client list grew to appreciate John's knowledge, his expertise, as well as his friendship," said Dennis Thomson, Buhrman's friend and co-worker for half a century.
Denis DiLoreto is among Buhrman's friends who met him through Lyons. They met in the early 1970s, when DiLoreto was a young attorney new to Chambersburg and was looking for a fashionable wardrobe.
"For him it wasn't just about selling clothes at Lyons," he said. "He wanted to provide a service to his customers. He was extremely good at doing that. He could find what a customer wanted and made sure that customer was satisfied with the service."
Buhrman's knack for customer service and building relationships inspired DiLoreto to encourage him to join the Rotary Club in Chambersburg.
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Stephanie Wilson, now the president of the Rotary Club, said she and Buhrman became close friends after meeting through the organization in 2017. They kept in touch at least weekly, and he would often pull from his decades of experience in his own industry to offer advice to Wilson, the founder and owner of a digital marketing firm.
A running joke between them focused on Wilson's penchant for wearing hoodies; Buhrman would playfully chastise her for the wardrobe choice, and she would reply that in her line of work, a hoodie is a sign of success.
"He was an exceptional friend and mentor. I'm going to continue to live each day to make him proud," Wilson said.
She added that Buhrman came up with and was spearheading a service project in which flags would be donated to Seller's Funeral Home to honor veterans who pass away. "Flags for Heroes" will now pay homage to Buhrman.
Whitley, who runs MrPhab Photos, is also a member of Rotary. They did countless service projects together. Buhrman always showed up ready to work, always in his typical, fashionable attire, he said.
"For me, I thought it was absolutely fabulous that someone with so much style and fashion knowledge lived and worked in Chambersburg," Whitley said.
Fast-food worker who came to sell fashion
As far as anyone knows, Buhrman had no master plan to forge a career in fashion.
Thomson was a tailor at Lyons in the early '70s when Buhrman, then a fast-food worker, stopped in and asked if they were hiring.
Richard Lyons, whose father founded the store in 1908, hired Buhrman as a seasonal employee for the Christmas season. When it came time for the temporary employees to go, colleagues stepped up and encouraged Richard Lyons to keep Buhrman on, Thomson said. It turned into a full career.
Lyons began struggling in the '80s as competition increased and men turned to more casual styles instead of the business attire that had kept the store busy for decades, according to past reporting in The Public Opinion. One of Lyons' main suppliers opening its own store was a hurdle the company could not get over.
Gregg Lyons, son of Richard, announced the store would close in December 1992. In less than a year, Gregg, Buhrman and Thomson formed an equal partnership and reopened the store with a refreshed name and merchandise.
"He was a champion of downtown success. He wanted our downtown to succeed," Shover said. "That was his life. Lyons is who my dad was."
Thomson said Buhrman's long list of devoted clients was an integral part of reopening the store.
"He developed a tremendous client list who would come and work exclusively with John," he said.
Trends continued to change but Lyons held its own for the next 30 years.
"Then came the pandemic. When we reopened after three months, it was extremely difficult to get established local clientele back," Thomson said. Customers saw no need to buy new, quality clothes when they were rarely venturing out.
The partners decided it was time to close. Lyons and Company shuttered at the end of 2020.
Life after Lyons
Buhrman struggled after the store closed, according to Shover, his only child. But it wasn't long before he found not just a new job, but a way forward in life, she said. He spent the last three years working as a court crier in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
"My dad has always been about Lyons, but today my dad is who he is also because of the people at the courthouse," Shover said.
Buhrman primarily worked for President Judge Shawn Meyers, whom he met at Lyons back in the '80s. Meyers said it was as if Buhrman had a natural instinct to help people at the courthouse.
"He was part of the fabric of downtown Chambersburg, so it was a natural fit for him to work in our courts, to be part of downtown community, but now work in a public service role," the judge said.
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'JB's Original 6 B's'
Shover has been on the phone a lot in the days since her father passed, hearing from people from all over who knew and admired him.
Thomson said he knows of people from around Pennsylvania and surrounding states who will miss Buhrman.
"One comment that stuck out to me, a customer and good friend said he was one of those remarkable sales professionals that allowed you to buy the perfect piece," said Shover, who is also part of another iconic Chambersburg business, Ludwig's Jeweler's, on her mother's side.
Shover said her dad lived his life by what he called "JB's Original 6 B's:
- "B calm"
- "B kind"
- "B patient"
- "B positive"
- "B strong"
- "B THANKFUL"
She will strive to follow his advice as time moves on. Shover and Buhrman had big plans to hang out together poolside this summer, a favorite activity they missed last year because she had an injury.
"He had talked about what great things we were going to do this summer. We loved to bask in the sun together at the pool."
She said he'd already bought a season pass for the Chambersburg Aquatic Center.
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.