The Last Great Clothing Store


“It’s how it should be,” said Philip Scotti, the owner of P. J. Clarke’s, the Manhattan saloon, who on a recent Friday was in the men’s sportswear department. “They actually wait on you.”

Mr. Scotti was picking up some jeans, slacks and a sport coat. He was also busting the chops of his favorite salesman, Jon Segal, a native Philadelphian who bought his bar mitzvah suit and shoes at Boyds. Thirty-five years later, Mr. Segal, 48, works alongside the man who sold them to him.

Mr. Scotti, who is opening an outpost of P. J. Clarke’s in Philadelphia, has been coming in to shop whenever he is in town on business. Though he has plenty of options at home in New York, he prefers Boyds, he said, because the treatment is attentive but also laid-back, owing to the personal approach. Returns, for instance, require a simple phone call. “I can imagine calling Barneys and getting 17 different people on the line,” Mr. Scotti said.

He added, “I wish all stores were like this. There’s not many left.”

It’s very possible that Boyds isn’t just one of a dying breed of old-fashioned retailers, however. Given its scale (50,000 square feet of selling space over four floors), and the level of service it provides, and the tailor shop and complimentary parking lot, and the near century of independent operation by the same family, it may be the only clothing store of its kind anywhere in the country.

Last week, Boyds unveiled a new women’s ready-to-wear, handbag and shoe department that covers the entire first floor and mezzanine level. It’s the first phase of a $10 million renovation by DAS Architects, a local design firm, intended to modernize and lighten the interior, with its heavy Greek columns and dark-wood cabinetry. The other, more pressing goal is to bring in female shoppers.

Photo

The basketball phenom Wilt Chamberlain gets fitted at Boyds Philadelphia in 1965.

Credit
via Boyds

A former vice president of handbags and accessories for Bergdorf Goodman, Deborah Soss, has been hired to introduce Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and other luxury fashion labels, along with new categories like evening wear, gowns and designer and vintage jewelry.

Boyds has in fact sold women’s wear since 1993, but never with the focus, success or renown equal to its men’s wear, which accounts for 80 percent of its business. In 2005 the store introduced a jeweler and a cafe run by the French chef George Perrier, of the famous Philadelphia restaurant Le Bec-Fin, to alter the entrenched perception of Boyds as an old boys’ club, a place where female shoppers weren’t understood or entirely welcomed. It didn’t work.

Even today, many people are surprised to learn the store sells woman’s wear, which Kent Gushner, the president and chief executive of Boyds, finds maddening.

Meet the Gushners

Mr. Gushner, who is 58 and carries himself with genial authority, belongs to the third generation of Gushner ownership. His grandfather, Alexander Gushner, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, started with a tiny cigar shop, branched into selling shirts and ties to office workers, then opened Boyds with his brother in 1938. He named it Boyds after a popular theater, and because it didn’t sound Jewish.

Kent’s father, Gerald Gushner, poured his life into making Boyds a success. Gerald, who died two years ago at 86, is described variously by the employees who worked for him as a “dynamo,” “demanding” and “one of the best retailers of his generation.”

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