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.