Threading the Needle: Thirty Years in the Nation’s Capitol
The J. Press roots in the Nation's Capitol serving both political parties goes back to 1946 when the company's Washington retail travel exhibits premiered in the old Willard Hotel. They were conducted by "J. Press Road Traveler" Ray Jacobs, an endearing and witty New Haven raconteur, a consummate salesman serving the clothing requirements for more than a generation of customers on his southern route from Philadelphia to New Orleans.
Once on his rounds in Washington during the Truman administration, measuring a suit for the imperious but underwear-clad Dean Acheson in his office at the State Department, Ray was going slowly and Acheson had appointments coming. "Ray," he said, "you'll have to hurry up before my appointment comes. It really wouldn't do for the Secretary of State to be caught with his pants down."
John P. Guttenberg, Jr., an influential DC public relations insider was an ardent J. Press aficionado and lobbied us relentlessly to open a J. Press store in Washington. The Reagan administration made Washington quite hospitable for conservatives and their understated wardrobes. Guttenberg unleashed his campaign. He set up a meeting with a real estate company he dealt with that eventually sealed the fine location at Avenue L and Sixteenth Street close to Burberry's, next door to traditional retailer Arthur Adler and a stone's throw from Brooks Brothers. We opened at the time of George H. W. Bush's inauguration in early 1989. Guttenberg steered an officer from the Republican National Committee to me and we made a deal selling them a "Stars and Stripes" ring belt for the Inauguration gift bag, the J. Press label prominently displayed on the back of the belt. Guttenberg was also helpful in directing us to hire an eminently qualified staff, including the furnishings manager of Brooks Brothers together with two of his talented associates.
On hand for the grand opening was Lieutenant Commander Cornelius "Corney" Van Schaack Roosevelt, furthering his patronage of J. Press that began in the Cambridge store during his studies at Harvard and MIT. Corney Roosevelt, WASP of patrician bearing, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, was a paradigmatic Oyster Bay Roosevelt.
He heartily grasped my hand, "Mr. Press, congratulations on the store opening. You and I share a unique bond-1902- the year your grandfather founded the business bearing his name and when my grandfather lived sixteen blocks up the street in the White House. Follow my grandfather's advice and I'm confident J. Press will continue to thrive,"
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.