by Karen Alberg Grossman

A retailer of a men’s specialty store in southern New Jersey wrote to me last week expressing the below.

I’m 61 years old, have been in the menswear business for 45 years and have owned my own store for 35 years. I wish that MR would spend more time writing about small stores, their successes, and what’s becoming their ultimate demise. Many stores like mine are first- and second-generation retailers in small towns who are struggling to the point of extinction. Online competition is quickly eroding not only department stores but also small hometown stores. With a new generation of shoppers who feel more comfortable shopping online than in person, and an older generation that no longer shops at all, or else they’re also learning to shop online, we are getting killed.

And what of the small stores’ future with no one to take over the helm? Many of us retailers are aging with no one to take our places. Talk to any of the regional sales reps and they will tell you their accounts are closing at an alarming rate, either by foreclosure or by attrition. And why would any smart young person even want to go into retailing? The enjoyment, the pride, the personal satisfaction is gone. There’s no future in taking over or opening a new clothing store: high rents, employee benefits, insurance, long hours, low pay, no retirement and of course the online competition from behemoths like Amazon, all this means we can’t compete. Even our own vendors are selling direct to our customers, making it impossible to win.

Clearly, the odds of making it are stacked against us. It’s my belief that in ten years or less you’ll see a complete obliteration of mom and pop clothing retailers. It’s sad that a once esteemed honored profession, the American dream of being a clothing store owner, will no longer exist. I’m not quitting yet, but I’m not sure how much more time I have. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

I thank you for your time and wish you, your staff and your readers a very prosperous holiday season, good health and peace of mind in the new year.

If you have a topic or issue you’d like to discuss, or something you want to get off of your chest, please feel free to email Karen at karen.alberg@wainscotmedia.com.



    1. Today retailers must look at lines that don’t sell direct, on line or discount stores. That’s how small independents will survive. Private label to help with margins and your own identity. The industry is full of great vendors and still fun. You just heed to open your eyes to change to different lines carried.

  2. Wow, is that the truth or what. In Baltimore,Maryland family owned and operated Formalwear and clothing specialists since 1910. I’m 62 and have been doing this for 47 years. I can’t give up for all the same reasons.God Bless you. Let’s all hope for a better 2020.

    1. I share the fear. I started in this business with The Custom Shop in 1965, when men dressed and took great enjoyment by the service offered. … I remember a holiday season where I was too busy to eat, and days ( and nights) when all I did was draw patterns and cut at night, and sell during the day. It was a heady time and I made shirts for some fabulous people. ( Still do) I opened my own company in 1978 and have been selling Custom Shirts since that time. I love what I do which keeps me in the game but I now appear to be one of the last (wo)men standing. Unfortunately, the “pie” has gotten much smaller, as my collegues have retired. Fewer men now feel the need to dress up, but I seem to own this pie in my local area. I will continue until I can no longer cover my shirtmaking expenses but it makes me sad to see this wonderful service eroded by sloppy work attire. Our company is well regarded, so I still have my lawyers and educators but each year some age out. My children are not interested in my company as they have followed their own passions. I still believe the custom clothier is held in high esteem when folks want or NEED custom shirts. I have clients with special needs who appreciate the service and those who spend hours at the gym who can no longer be properly fitted.
      The one comment I always get is how wonderful it is to have an unhurried shopping experience by a Master Shirtmaker and how no web purchase can duplicate what we offer. I encourage all those who feel as I do to just keep at it because we DO matter. We sell SERVICE and that will always be remembered. I’ve adjusted my needs to include this smaller piece of the pie as it’s MY Pie and I’m honored to be part of this industry. May 2020 be a stronger year and hopefully the political climate will be less charged. I hesitate to talk about politics, but our leadership has not generated a hopeful message and I’m waiting for the time when the mood lifts and folks get their “happy” back. Happy New Year everyone.. We can soon start all over again. Bright Blessings to all.

  3. I have never seen a better time for Independent Specialty retailers. I am 67 and decided to stay connected to retail to witness and participate in the incredible changes over the last 5 years. You adapt like everyone else has had to, or you die, as you mentioned. Hope is not a strategy. However the tools that are before you today to compete are unlike anything I have witnessed. There is plenty of opportunity, you have to look for it and being willing to innovate and iterate. There are specialty retailers’ like yourself who are thriving.

  4. The truth is sometimes very painful. However, it can help open our minds and our eyes to new opportunities.
    That is what the specialty stores need and we are all searching for it.
    Today’s young adults are more brand conscious than any previous generation. So private label is a challenge in many ways.
    As for the comments about reinventing yourself, well being a cheerleader is always good, but the facts won’t change.
    If it were that easy we would all be singing with joy.
    We are still here and intend to be going forward.
    We must manage our business very carefully and truly look for vendors who will work with us instead of competing against us!

  5. Small stores are not going to go away.
    They have something to offer that online companies are unable to offer…… the personal touch.
    Maybe the 20 and 25 year old does not care about this at this point of their life but when they get older and more successful they would like to have a store in their town that will take personal care of them.
    A store that shops for products from around the world and hand picks with the specific knowledge of their clients and his likes and makes him look like a million dollars.
    You can’t put a price tag on that and that’s why they are here to stay.
    Wishing everyone happy holidays.

  6. While I share the longevity and concerns of the editorialist and respondents, I am optimistic. There is always a competitive landscape. My Dad used to fret when our town was 35,000 with 5 men’s stores and 5 department stores with men’s.
    Innovation, exciting merchandise, anticipating customer wants. Customers need a reason and a compelling story.
    In my case I have never been satisfied with men’s shopping habits. I chose to leverage the men’s wear relationships into women’s wear, jewelry, and other merchandise businesses. While men’s wear grows, it is only 20% of my total.

    A common misconception of men’s wear owners is that they are in the tailored clothing business. We are in the men’s business and it’s our job to lead these relationships with the new look, not to venerate the good old days. If for example Cole Haan is no longer viable in my setting, then along comes On Running, bringing in over 400 first time customers this year.
    Yes, apples to oranges, but I’ll take the traffic and make it happen!
    Keep the faith, it’s a great business!

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