Eddie Jacobs to stay despite bankruptcy


November 15, 1991|By Michael Dresser

Eddie Jacobs Ltd., the upper-crust downtown menswear shop that has clothed Baltimore's establishment for more than 50 years, has filed for bankruptcy protection while it reorganizes.

One of the last remaining pillars of Old Baltimore's downtown retail elite, the clothier has been battered by a series of "cataclysmic events" that have befallen such downtown stalwarts as Maryland National Bank and USF&G, said Eddie Jacobs Jr., the store's owner.

"We will not discontinue operations," Mr. Jacobs said yesterday. But he said that the store will move from its current location at 22 Light St. sometime before the end of February. The shop has not yet found a new home, he said, but "we have some sites picked out."

Mr. Jacobs said the new, smaller store will be in the same vicinity -- the area bounded by Charles, Calvert, Lombard and Baltimore streets.

The immediate cause of the Nov. 7 Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was the store's inability to renegotiate lease terms with its landlord, United Way of Central Maryland, Mr. Jacobs said. The Chapter 11 filing, which allows a business to operate while trying to fashion a plan to satisfy its creditors, lists assets of about $200,000 and liabilities of $208,826.

Eddie Jacobs Ltd. was founded in 1939 by Mr. Jacobs' father -- the senior Eddie Jacobs, a national tennis champion during the 1920s and a member of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame. The elder Mr. Jacobs died in 1982.

In recent decades, Eddie Jacobs has been a staunchly conservative bastion of understated elegance. But older Baltimoreans recall it as a shop that catered to preppy young men before they were even called preppies.

As its customers moved from the campus to the brokerage houses, law firms and banks, Eddie Jacobs' selection matured to meet their needs. Now, Mr. Jacobs said, the clientele is "pretty much between 30 and the grave."

Eddie Jacobs has never been the place to go for the latest in Continental styles. Duffy Hart, vice president of Hart Industries and an Eddie Jacobs customer for 20 years, said the store's strengths are "button-down shirts and striped ties."

"We don't have fashion," Mr. Jacobs said. "Fashion is for somebody else."

From its first location at 5 E. Redwood St., Eddie Jacobs has migrated over the years to various locations in Baltimore's financial district. During the 1960s it occupied the Hansa House at Redwood and Charles streets. In 1969, it moved to Baltimore and Light streets, where it stayed until it moved to its current location in 1982.

Mr. Jacobs said that the store's problems had nothing to do with the move. "The new location was great. Last year wasn't so dTC great."

To some extent, Eddie Jacobs has been tested by the same woes that have taken their toll on several other downtown menswear merchants recently: Warner's on Baltimore Street, Lohmeyers and the Canterbury Shop on Charles Street.

In some cases, longtime customers have become infrequent visitors as their companies have moved to the suburbs. Mr. Hart's paper-converting business, for instance, relocated from Fells Point to Owings Mills, and now he gets back to Eddie Jacobs only infrequently.

Recently, that problem has been compounded by a series of devastating blows to companies whose employees have long shopped at Eddie Jacobs. Equitable Bank merged with Maryland National Bank and disappeared, taking many jobs with it. Maryland National then came under pressure and cut staff even further. USF&G started bleeding and responded with layoffs of more Jacobs customers.

"We've lost a lot of them who no longer have jobs," Mr. Jacobs said.

Still, he vows that the store, which has a logo of crossed tennis rackets, will survive to play many more sets.

"This will be short and furious, and we'll be back," he said.

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