LEWISTON — The customer who walked in to Paul’s Clothing last week to offer her condolences jumped in surprise when Paul Poliquin poked his head out of a back room.

“She put her hands in the air and said, ‘Oh, my God, Paul, I thought you were dead!'” said Poliquin, 63. “And then she tells me, she was at beano and everybody at beano was talking about it and, ‘They all thought you’re dead.’ I said, ‘I hope you correct them.'”

Poliquin isn’t dead, but he’s getting a lot of that lately.

In a weird case of mistaken retail identity, he’s been fielding condolences for the past month.

It began in December shortly after news of the death of 82-year-old Morris Silverman, a longtime businessman and the owner of Louie’s Clothing.

Silverman’s father originally opened Louie’s Clothing on Lisbon Street, where it stayed for nearly 50 years. Poliquin worked at the store for 15 years starting in 1977.

When Silverman decided to move Louie’s Clothing to Center Street in Auburn 25 years ago, Poliquin gave his notice, renovated the Lisbon Street space, and a month later, opened Paul’s Clothing, where he’s been since.

A segment of customers didn’t notice the name change. Others, for reasons unknown, got confused after ads started running that announced Louie’s was going out of business.

They flopped it around and the rumors started: Paul’s was closing. Or Paul was dead. Or Paul was Silverman.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Poliquin said. “It started almost immediately. Now you can’t imagine how I felt. It was just like a vision that you had died and people were coming in. A lot of customers have been with me for years and years and years; they’re like family. And I found out how close these customers were.”

Poliquin said when he’d learned of Silverman’s death, he felt bad for the family.

“He was a good guy,” he said. Despite being competitors for years, “I never considered him anything other than a friend.”

Poliquin isn’t sure how to deal with the rumor mill or the steady stream of mourners, except one person at a time.

Two days ago, he answered a phone call from a longtime sales rep, a “rough, tough guy” he’s known for years.

“He calls me up to offer his condolences, but I don’t know that, so I pick up the phone, ‘Paul’s Clothing,'” Poliquin said. The man panicked at the familiar voice. “I had to calm him down. He started to tear up and I teared up. He said, ‘I’m coming to see you Friday,’ and he says, ‘I don’t care what anybody says, I’m going to go in there and I’m going to give you a bear hug.’ It’s very, very emotional, but it’s a good thing. Spend 44 years on Lisbon Street and people treat you like that; that’s nice. I have been blessed.”

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