Gage era approaches the end

After a sale at two stores, the downtown business is likely to close

October 25, 2005|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Gage World Class Mens Wear has dressed some of Baltimore's most visible men over the years.

Kweisi Mfume, U.S. Senate candidate and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and congressman, said he gets 95 percent of his wardrobe from the retailer. Delicatessen owner Marc Attman got his first suit there, a green one, at age 9. And Kurt L. Schmoke frequented the downtown location when he was mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999 and later when he resumed the practice of law.

"I love that place," said Schmoke, now dean of the Howard University School of Law in Washington. "I'm not a high-fashion guy. But I like to stay somewhat in style so I don't aggravate my wife."

But having the cream of the crop among one's customer base isn't always enough these days to keep a retailer in business.

After nearly 60 years, Gage is adopting a new business plan that is likely to end with the closing of its downtown Baltimore store.

Tomorrow, Gage will put everything in its two stores - in Baltimore and Owings Mills - on 40 percent discount.

When every suit, shoe, coat and sock is sold, Gage will shut both stores. They'll eventually reopen only one location, to be determined, after remodeling that includes introducing a new store concept.

The downtown store is the one most likely to remain shuttered, said owner Bill Glazer, whose father, Harry, founded the business in 1946.

It's an end of Gage as most know it, however.

"We have been experiencing a higher rate of growth in Owings Mills than downtown," Glazer said. "Looking at our two customer bases, downtown customers will more likely travel to the Owings Mills location than vice versa."

Yesterday, signs plastered across the front of the downtown store at 200 W. Baltimore St., across from the First Mariner Arena, perhaps offered the most telling glimpse of the store's future: "Going Out of Business Pricing." "After 59 years, the Gage Family Will No Longer Be Running Gage World Class Mens Wear." "End of an Era."

The closing will also mark Glazer's exit from the family business.

He has slowly been reducing his role at Gage, bringing in Stephen A. Blake, a former executive with Sunny's Great Outdoors, to replace him as president.

By early next year, Glazer will turn over all operations at Gage to Blake and focus on running a marketing and consulting company - Glazer, Kennedy, Inner Circle - that he started several years ago.

"He's stepping away completely," Blake said yesterday as he prepared the downtown store for tomorrow's sale. "This is his last hurrah."

The revitalization of the city's west side, which the company had hoped would help the downtown store, has taken longer than store officials expected, Blake said.

"The problem is that the downtown area has changed dramatically," Blake said. "In the Mercantile building, there used to be 1,000 lawyers working there. That's not the case anymore."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said the possible closing of Gage, where he has shopped for a decade, is another sign of Baltimore's struggle in spite of a real-estate revitalization.

"I want to see a downtown where we are not only building residences but ... we are building and maintaining businesses that allow people to not have to go far from where they live and work," the Baltimore Democratic congressman said.

Blake and Gage declined to reveal much about the new store concept before they unveil it in March. "We need to find a way to differentiate ourselves and the new model will help us do this," Blake said.

When independent men's retailers such as Sam Glass & Sons, Bernard Hill and G. Briggs succumbed to suburban flight and competition from other retailers during the past few decades, Gage stayed in business.

Its salesmen know their customers' tastes well enough to call them at home when something new arrives in stock.

Glazer would send personalized notes to the most loyal shoppers to give them a heads-up on a sale.

Schmoke remembers Gage being one of the first stores to sell to African-Americans as the city emerged from segregation.

"They always had a place in the hearts of older people in our community," Schmoke said.

Mfume remembers first shopping at Gage in the 1970s. Even though the Owings Mills location is probably more convenient for him, he said he still goes downtown out of habit.

"Man, closing?" Mfume said yesterday after hearing the news. "Gee whiz. I'm kind of floored. This is kind of rough to take. You expect them to be around forever."

Attman, whose grandfather founded the famed Attman's Deli on Lombard Street in East Baltimore, still has a picture of his first suit from Gage.

It was green, with a matching green tie, which he wore for the Jewish high holidays. These days, Attman, now 54, wears a suit and tie every day to work and just about all of them came from Gage. "It's sad to see another independent retailer leave the city," Attman said. "They'll have my allegiance, forever, which is rare in this world."

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.