I read with dismay Mr. Rosenfeld’s guest editorial on the demise of department stores, the move to online shopping, and the dramatic sea change our industry is experiencing. Although I’m not exactly a cockeyed optimist, I’m definitely a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, at least when it comes to our 77th year in brick-and-mortar men’s and women’s fashion in the metro Detroit area.
For starters, let me say that anyone looking to get rich quick in retailing ought to have his/her head examined as it’s very hard work. However, for me anyway, it’s still fun and it’s a living. Sure, we’ve had some superstars in our industry who made a fortune but by and large, those people flared-up and burned out.
Secondly, what happened to retailing in this country where stores sprang up like weeds in an untended garden should never have happened. Thanks to the unbelievable greed of both retailers and mall developers (mostly the latter), the USA became (and still is) unsustainably over-stored. The shuttering of many of these locations is a natural consequence of that greed and probably a good thing, though painful if you happen to be one of those stores forced to bite the bullet.
Of course, we all understand the upheaval caused by the pandemic, and no one can deny the impact of online selling and its obvious influence on how people shop. But in spite of those things, I continue to believe that prospects for independent stores are pretty good.
I can’t explain how good it feels to be a shopkeeper in a small suburban community that has seen hard times but seems to get a little better each year. We’ve become an integral part of our community and residents seem to appreciate our being here. Fortunately, we own our real estate. In the 1980s, we had 27 stores and were in every mall in the metropolitan Detroit market where we were abused and harassed by all manner of real estate developers. I learned then that if you can’t be your own landlord (or if you can’t rent from a close family member with whom you have a strong personal relationship), you’ll find yourself in trouble, sooner or later.
Among the lessons this pandemic has taught me is that our inventories don’t have to be as large and all-inclusive as we previously thought. It’s become obvious that we need to stay in stock with a proper assortment of core inventory, at least until things get back to normal (if they ever do). We’ve also learned that shortening our hours isn’t hurting us and actually seems to be helping. No more Friday nights ‘til 9 PM (which were becoming increasingly less important, even before the pandemic) and no more Sunday hours (I’d always insisted on being open Sundays). Perhaps we’ll extend hours a bit after Thanksgiving; we’ll see. We’re also adjusting our buying to be more reflective of the weather: we’ll stay with summer longer and I suspect we’ll stay with winter longer. We’ll stop force-feeding next season’s purchases into our inventories as early as we used to.
These are changes that, combined with so many closures of big box stores, could well portend better times ahead for independent apparel retailers. Never say die, say I. In addition, I’ve always been drawn to the observation of retired Boston menswear retailer Greg Thomajan: “There’s no shortage of guys in the industry who are smarter than I am, but none have outworked me.”
Gilbert Rose is the second generation owner of Chelsea Menswear & Tuxedos, now in its fourth generation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.