13 January, 2010
JIM SKINNER HANGS UP TAPE MEASURE AFTER 55 YEARS IN CLOTHING BUSINESS
BEFORE AND AFTER -- Jim Skinner at the time of his retirement late last year, and in a Lambton Kent District High School photo as a Grade 9 student, 1953-54.
Jim (I don't think I ever called him Clem) and I go away back. Away back to the year 1954 when I encouraged him at 13-years-of-age to come to work with me part-time at Art Bowen's Clothing Store in good old Dresden. When I left Dresden on New Years eve in 1955 to seek fame and fortune in professional baseball south of the border, Jim applied for my job as store manager and got it.
Jim was later to explain that he first sought his parents' approval before applying for the job. "My mom and dad said: 'Well, if you're going to have a full-time job, you won't be hanging around the pool room as much, so okay/'." That first $22.00 a week job served as a spring board to a career in men's clothing that would last a lifetime. Really, Jim's story is one of a small town boy making good, with emphasis on the word small. At 15-16 years-of-age Jim stood five-foot nothing, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in personality, heart, desire and perseverance.
At some point in 1958 Jim noticed an ad in the London Free Press for a job at Hudson's department store on Dundas Street East in London. Jim confided in me that he did not get the job the first time he went for an interview, in fact he did not get it the second time either. "I just wanted to work at Hudson's no matter what, and I kept coming back for a job until they finally hired me," he explained.
In 1962, he married Judy Halman of London who just happened to also be in the fashion business in downtown London. By 1966, Jim had worked his way up to the position of buyer for the menswear department and 12 years later, he and another long-time Hudson's employee teamed up to buy the store from the Shapiro family.
A six-year foray under the Hudson's banner resulted in the Shapiro family taking the store over again and Jim branching out on his own with Skinner's Men's Wear, just a short distance east on Dundas Street. Another three years later, the store was moved to slightly larger quarters at 700 York Street.
The dynamics of men's wear retailing has changed drastically over the years and Jim saw the writing on the wall. "Judy and I both had health problems last year and she finally told me, 'You've been in this business for 56 years; don't you think that's enough?'" Jim told The Free Press in an interview at the time of his retirement just before Christmas.
Letting his wife's words sink in, he was finally ready to agree with her and rather than risk his store's name in the vagaries of an uncertain future, decided to close the business rather than sell it. After one last pre-Christmas clearance sale, he turned the key on the front door of his store and walked away for good. I'm sure he struggled with mixed emotions as he drove home that last night, one of the last of a breed of independent haberdashers in London -- and in Canada, for that matter.
I can't help but wonder where Jim will buy his underwear and socks in the future...Walmart, perhaps? I bet that very thought crossed his mind and he stocked up his closet at home.
Jim's brother-in-law Gary O'Flynn of Wallaceburg informed me the other day that Jim and Judy are currently basking in the sun on a beach in Cuba. It will look good on them.
You did well Jimmy boy! Enjoy your retirement...You deserve to take it easy after all those years of wearing a tape measure around your neck and selling, selling, selling -- yourself as much as your merchandise. Either way, your customers got a good deal!