Enquirer Herald

Men's Shop still in fashion

Ronnie Bailes said a picture of Lewis Alcindor, Jr., later called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, on "Sports Illustrated" in the late 60s starring for the UCLA Bruins defines the men's clothing industry.

"Kareem was playing for UCLA and it had a panoramic shot of the stands," said Bailes, owner of The Men's Shop. "Ninety percent of the stands were men, and 90 percent of those men had on coats and ties."

But things have changed, and now men don't wear coats and ties as often, which has caused many specialty stores supplying men's formal wear to go out of business.

"I had a salesman tell me not long ago that 30 years ago there were over 500 men's specialty stores in North and South Carolina," Bailes said. "Now, there are less than 200."

While many stores serving men's specialty wear have buckled, The Men's Shop in York is thriving and will mark its 60th anniversary tonight with a ribbon cutting and celebration from 3 to 7 p.m.

Bailes' father Furman opened The Men's Shop in a small location on Congress Street in the fall of 1948. The shop didn't move to its current spot at 49 N. Congress St. until 14 years ago.

Furman died at age 44 after suffering a heart attack when Bailes was still in high school, but the store stayed under the family's ownership. Bailes returned after college to take over the store.

He has withstood alterations to the men's clothing market and economic downturns.

"Back in the 80s, the men's clothing business changed," Bailes said. "All of a sudden you just couldn't make it being a suit store anymore. We didn't have sportswear, as many shoes or Clemson merchandise. The market changed, so I had to have a larger space because sportswear takes more space."

This transition, along with a contingency of clients spanning the United States, have kept the Men's Shop afloat.

Bailes, who regularly e-mails and calls local and out-of-state customers, said the appreciation he has for his customers is the only reason he's still open today.

"Those customers are your life line," he said. "That's the only way you can survive. You have to appreciate them, because without their loyalty it's hard to build a business."

One of those customers is Freddie Clinton, who retired in 2002 as the chairman & CEO of the Bank of York. Clinton said he watched The Men's Shop grow from its original form.

"I bought from The Men's Shop since I was a young man in the early 50s," Clinton recalled. "I worked next door, and what I remember more than anything is they didn't have a back door. Mr. [Furman] Bailes came though our store three times a day. He was a fine gentlemen and a good salesman.

Bill Brice Jr., York city attorney, also is a long-time customer of the shop.

"People are a lot more casual now," Brice said. "I started wearing a suit and tie when I got to law school. Ronnie and his father both kept up with the times, and are both pleasant people."

Bailes is looking toward prospective family owners of the future.

"My son, Ronnie Jr., is 30 years old and he works for Wachovia in Charlotte," Bailes said. "We don't know what going to happen with Wachovia, so I told him, 'son you may end up in the clothing business just yet.'"