How one menswear store in a small southern city is facing the pandemic

by Karen Alberg Grossman

While Alexandria, Louisiana (population 45,000) might not be fashion-central, folks there like to dress. But as 98-year-old town councilman Harry Silver reminds us, “There’s a difference between dressed and well dressed. That’s where a savvy retailer makes his mark.”

Harry Silver may well be the nation’s oldest elected official (he was re-elected to the city council with no opposition in 2018) but, when not working at City Hall, he still spends part of each day at Weiss & Goldring, the 120-year-old business that Harry ran for many years after his father-in-law Louis Levy offered him a job at this acclaimed department store. (Prior to retailing, Harry was a law student at Rutgers and Columbia, a football star and talented swimmer who enlisted in the Air Force and taught soldiers how to survive by swimming through burning oil and using their helmets to stay afloat.)

At present, Harry’s son Ted is running the store (with help from his son Michael, their IT specialist and fifth generation, and a few talented sellers). “I’ve been coming to the store since age 4,” Ted tells MR. “I’d have breakfast with my dad and lunch with my grandfather. I’ve worked here full-time since 1978, and feel so fortunate to still have my dad as my mentor and best friend.”

Ted shares some strategy for surviving this pandemic. “We decided 15 years ago to downsize: from 30,000 square-feet to 4,500. Weiss & Goldring was once a major department store chain with 55 doors. I wanted to concentrate on men’s and on building relationships. Three of my four siblings had been in the business but one by one, they dropped out. Retailing is tough, and not just the 14-hour days… In recent weeks, we’ve been making masks: ours are crafted from Jensen silk squares with On running laces. They’d be too expensive to sell so we opted to give them to those in need.”

Ted’s plan moving forward is to maintain a mix of 70 percent true men’s (key brands include Castangia, Trask, Scott Barber, Magnanni, W. Kleinberg) and 30 percent unique items from gifts to gourmet, from crystal to caviar sets to cutlery (one of his top sellers is a $95 knife designed specifically for peanut butter…) “Until the shutdown, we served lunch in the store every day at a huge conference table; guys could enjoy their drink in a Baccarat goblet. It was as much a Southern Men’s Club as a store…”

While Ted will surely welcome the reopening of his men’s club (restaurants and churches in Alexandria can open this weekend at 25 percent capacity), he’s hedging his bets by taking the business on the road. “We’re calling it Destination: Luxury. We’ve purchased a van to service people worried about in-store shopping; we’ll be driving around town, taking the business to them, by appointment only. This should be especially helpful for our custom clothing, a sizable part of our volume.” (In fact, Ted is a custom perfectionist and insists on personally measuring his clients. “I don’t let the company reps measure,” he confides. “I know exactly how each of my customers likes his fit.”)

Councilman Harry Silver

Harry, too, offers a few tricks of the trade. “Be aware of what the customer has been buying so you understand his taste; then offer him something just a bit different. Make sure the people you hire to represent the store know how to dress. Always seek out what’s new, what’s next. Learn to communicate effectively: you can’t run a business if you can’t express your thoughts. And most importantly, always operate with fiscal restraint: this continues to be my mantra, whether running a store or running a city.”

Asked what he’s learned from his dad, Ted’s response is instantaneous. “Treating people the right way comes back to you in spades. Giving away masks, sending out packages of Clorox wipes (after joking with the UPS guy to insure each package for $5,000). We might not get rich in this business but we sure make a lot of great friends.”

Harry wholeheartedly agrees, pointing out how proud he is of his son’s ability to always help people out (with tickets, reservations, etc.) via his strong connections. “This business is a labor love,” Harry confirms.

12 Replies to “HOW ONE MENSWEAR STORE IN A SMALL SOUTHERN CITY IS FACING THE PANDEMIC”

    1. I appreciate the great article.This shows that small businesses can survive.And you are wright it’s about how you treat your Client’s.

    2. The Silver’s are a CLASS act, I have known them for almost 60 years. They take care of you and service is their specialty. Keep on trucking Ted.

  1. Great job, Ted. We know it ain’t easy!! I love that you are in a smaller community and can thrive, people have no idea! Give my regards to your amazing Dad!

  2. Ted and All,
    What a wonderful Family, and a Family Story that defines a Local Specialty Store.
    Well done, our communities should always appreciate supporting and working together…..
    It makes work far less of a Labor. I hope that whole family stays safe and well, these are stressful times.
    Gary Wasserman

    1. Ted knows how to put a coat on your shoulders when you walk through the store and before you know you need a coat – all of a sudden, you can’t live without that coat! It’s an art. And Ted’s an artist.

    1. Amazing article and beautiful photo! Again, it’s all about the people and the relationships made.
      Stay well and keep up the great work. All the best!

      1. Wonderful article about a truly great store, amazing loving family and terrific merchant. Congratulations Ted on consistently come up with innovating ways of serving your customers. It’s a delight to be in the store to see how you and Mr. Harry have made your store a real men’s club. God bless Mr. Harry, Ted and team as you officially reopen.

        1. Good looking group. And very well dressed ! W&G is a unique and enjoyable experience Harry is amazing and Ted is a very good gin rummy player

  3. Good morning Ted … Congratulations on the wonderful coverage in the recent edition of MR Magazine. Certainly a well deserved tribute to you, your dad and W&G.
    Your style and operation are unique and, most importantly, our Community is indeed fortunate to have your family here and to benefit from the many contribution made by the Silver family over these many years! Wishing you continued success.
    Ed Caplan

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