I still recall the plethora of menswear specialty shops surrounding the Eli campus during the Ivy Heyday. They’re all now gone with the wind except J. Press, fittingly expanding to its new headquarters at 262 Elm Street around the corner from its historic landmark done in by the Blizzard of 2013.
The Elm City Honor Roll of menswear retailers and custom tailors lining York Street, Broadway, Elm and Chapel Streets included Chipp, Rosenthal & Maretz, Fenn-Feinstein, White’s, Gentree, Saks Menswear, Arthur M. Rosenberg, Langrock, DePinna, Westbrook Tailors, Yale Co-op Men’s Shop and Rosey (the vintage entrepreneur on whatever street he took his gear where Yalie’s pawned their custom suits for cash until their next allowance).
My memory growing up in New Haven during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s grows dimmer but can’t let go of halfback Levi Jackson running wild evading tacklers in the Yale Bowl, Ezio Pinza chanting Some Enchanted Evening to Mary Martin in the Shubert Theatre South Pacific tryout, and throwing up my guts on the Savin Rock rollercoaster after gorging on locally famous Jimmy’s Lobster Rolls.
J. Press made the cut into the 21s century by carefully adhering to the Golden Rules promulgated by my eponymous grandfather Jacobi Press:
1) Promote the long-term value of the product.
2) Police the quality of craft.
3) Respond to the unique wardrobe requirements of a targeted customer base.
Menswear specialty shops are mostly extinct, but J. Press holds down the fort. One of the reasons was elucidated to me by Frank Sinatra during his late ‘60s Squeeze patronage. After sweating through a strenuous fitting of suits and blazers with fitter Felix Samelson, he says to me, “Hey Richie, let’s get the hell out of here for a couple of Jack Daniels.” I took him across the street to the pocket size bar next door to Brooks Brothers opposite us on 44th Street. Soon after we arrived, in walks a squad of Brooks salesmen, each of them bowing in obeisance to Ol’ Blue Eyes. “Let’s get the hell away from these f—-g creeps,” Sinatra said as we escaped to the back of the long dark narrow room avoiding their prying eyes and ears.
“Used to get all my stuff on the coast from Dick Carroll, great guy, but you’re my New York guy now,” he confided. “Richie, love your place and can’t stand that joint next door. Different guy waits on you for shirts, then another one for neckties. Schlep to different floors and new sales guys for blazers than another one on another floor for suits. Pain in the ass. Not like your joint. Ken Trommers takes care of me from soup to nuts. He sniffs whatever I need.”
The cast has changed but Grandpa’s rules stand tall. Sinatra is history but the melody lingers on.
By the time I reached New Haven, Chipp, Gentree (where I first experie nced hopsack weave and lap seams) and Saks had retreated to 44th Street. Langrock established a grand new Princeton home on Nassau Street and was joined by The English Shop, Douglas MacDaid, The University Store and Maurice Pearce. Only a few blocks away, I lived in Princeton and had all these purveyors of Ivy style available to me, with Langrock as my prime destination.
Unfortunately, growing up in the dreaded Los Angeles in late 50s and early 60s, we did not have the variety of traditional clothing shops that allowed for the choices available in the east. There was the”real” Brooks Brothers in downtown LA, and a few elsewhere, small shops, that at least provided quality goods. I have fond memories of Lew Ritter, in Westwood Village, before Westwood became a an urban nightmare. All are long gone. Now living on the Central Coast, my only ready choice is JPress. I am thankful for that, to say the very least. You fortunate few in the East!
I remember a tailor at your Cambridge store in the late 50s named Frank Martin (maybe Martinelli). I I I I had a loose button on a tweed overcoat (replete with a velvet collar) that I had purchased at your Cambridge store. While I was browsing at the tie table your tailor Frank Martin (Martinnelli ? spotted me, bolted out of his work area and took me by the arm exclaiming, “Oh MR. Carroll let me tighten up that button before you loose it! “
Now that’s service!!
I used to call Jerry Haber and tell him I was coming to New York from Philadelphia, usually on a Saturday morning, I came to the store and he had preselected a regal selection of suits, ties, sport coats-whatever I had told him I was in the market for on that day.A class act on all counts. Today, I contact Robert Wolf in New York in a similar vein. The purchases are smaller these days-a pair of pants, maybe a belt, a cardigan shaggy dog, a polo shirt-whatever-but the same class A service. I had the same experience with Arthur Noble in Washington years ago.There is no other store like J. Press-same personal service whether you are Frank Sinatra or me. I am a customer forever.
Somewhere in the Yale Alumni Magazine archives of the late ‘70s or early ’80s there is a story on the demise of the men’s specialty clothing stores in New Haven. As I recall, the demise was brought on by the infiltration of the hippie movement into the general culture. America has not recovered from that infiltration, but those of us who still wear J. Press are at least keeping up appearances!
Stopped going to work in midtown during COVID and then retired. Decided not to get more “haberdasher” attire since had so many suits, ties, shirts requiring collar stays, etc that I was going to give away. Then in last 2 months have stopped in and wound up with a blazer, a suit and several khakis courtesy of your great team who still provide white glove service. I’m sure Felix looks down, peering over his glasses, mumbling an approval
Don’t forget Gamer, a small shop on Chapel, Browning and King one of several outlets they had on the
East Coast. Miss your San Francisco store and hope JPress will give it another try.
I think I bought at least one thing at all the shops mentioned.
Thanks for the wonderful writing.
Sinatra’s crass use of the “f” word and his coarse idiom show that he never transcended his tawdry origins in Hoboken, New Jersey — no matter who his tailor happened to be and how fortunate he was in having Felix Samelson oversee his wardrobe. He was a draft-dodger during World War Two and hid behind his wife’s skirts. Nelson Riddle revived his singing career. He was a stooge for the Mafia. He pimped for John F. Kennedy in Las Vegas and for Kennedy’s father Joe in Palm Springs. In this case, (Press) clothes did not make the man — they DISGUISED him.
Any survey of Broadway must include Liggett’s. When the now topical Griswold v. Connecticut, in which Pres. Griswold’s wife was the plaintiff, r.e. birth control, was being discussed, Potter Stewart asked counsel to approach the bench to ask, “What’s the matter? You can’t still get’em at Liggett’s?” Badda boom.
I loved this. My funniest story-I bought a heather sports coat which I loved for years in Portland where I still practice. On one of my visits home to Dayton we went out to dinner and my dad seemed to be wearing my coat. We were the same size. His somehow looked lots better, but that was more my Dad. I asked how he came up with my favorite jacket-which I still have-and he said the jacket was his and he had bought it years ago and maybe hadn’t worn it with me around.. He had several Press jackets which I had before seen. This episode had the benefit of making us both laugh, but more meaningfully highlighted for each of us our similarities. Happy to report that I had the good fortune not to attend Yale as did my dad. Boris’40 U Penn, Larry "68 U Penn. I was a classmate of the Orange Chimp.
Well said Mr. Press, but don’t forget the San Francisco store. Always a. Great experience.
You forgot to mention Gamer’s on Chapel street near the Yale Art Gallery, and Hunter-Haig on Broadway near the Yale Co-op, Cutler’s Record Store and Whitlock’s Bookstore. The vast carousel at Savin Rock was so splendidly carved and unique that it now in a museum.
Nice job, Dick. You do have a way with
Grear story and it brings back wonderful memories of New Haven. Congrats on new store in Eli Land and look forward to shopping there for blazer slacks and shirts. It was nice to see an older Peter Newman at the store and to remember you father’s can of tennis balls and to talk about his dad Herb and those days of tennis at both the old and the new WCC
So glad you are still in business and only wish you had a store in Chicago.