A North Shore gentleman in search of a men’s store will no longer be able to shop at the mall for his personal needs by the end of December.
He will have to go downtown—downtown Deerfield, downtown Highland Park, downtown Lake Forest or downtown Northbrook that is.
With the closing of Mark Shale at Northbrook Court in December, that North Shore mall will no longer have a men’s store. At one time Mark Shale competed with Brooks Brothers as well as local institutions Brittany, Ltd., and Bigsby & Kruthers at the shopping center.
For gentlemen seeking the service and quality traditional men’s and boys’ stores offer, there are plenty of options around like Guys & Co. in Deerfield, Avant for Men in Highland Park, Leonard’s Mens and Boys in Northbrook and Smith’s Men’s Store in Lake Forest.
One person who understands the necessary niche is Harold “Happy” Fell of Highland Park. Fell’s grandfather started a family clothing business in Highland Park, Glencoe and Winnetka which served the North Shore for nearly a century. The company closed in 2007 when no member of the fourth generation of the family chose to work in the stores.
“Menswear has to be top end,” Fell said of what a local business needs to do to in the face of companies like Men’s Wearhouse or Jos. A. Bank. “Few can compete with the mass merchandisers.”
Avant Makes a Mark With Relationship Building
Ollie Galam, the owner of Avant for Men which sells high end lines like Canali, Robert Talbott and St. Croix, has found a solution. Starting out with Mark Shale more than 20 years ago, he opened his own store in 1996 adding the Highland Park location in 2008.
“We try to build a relationship with our customers,” Galan said. “We have great quality for the price wrapped with relationships and service so you’re getting a value. You’ll always try to buy the best you can afford. I’m the one who stands behind the clothing and alterations.”
In Northbrook, Leonard Hochmuth has found his own forte for male clothing. He joined the 40-year-old family business 37 years ago after graduating college and becoming a certified public accountant.
“Our No. 1 niche is the bar mitzvah business,” Hochmuth said. “We had someone in the store from Grand Rapids last weekend. I feel really good someone came all that way.” Leonard’s also focuses on high school apparel as well as scouting.
High School Apparel Abounds at Leonard’s
“We have 50 or 60 different selections of high school apparel (for Glenbrook North),” Hochmuth said. “We have a lot for Deerfield High School and Glenbrook South and some for New Trier and Stevenson.”
In Lake Forest, John Tadel, the owner of Smith’s Men’s Store, has found a key to success as well. While Avant specializes in trend setting lines, Tadel features traditional selections like Hart Schaffner Marks and Corbin. Like Galan and Hochmuth, service is a critical component for Tadel.
"I'm a traditional store,” Tadel said. “Fashion is not the most prominent part of the business. We're a conservative, traditional kind of clothing store. The most important thing (we offer that the chains do not) is the personal attention. We make sure that the customer goes out of here looking and feeling good.”
Smith’s offers button-down collars, navy blazers, gray slack, suits and white shirts. “They want the same stuff they’ve been buying for years,” Tadel said.
In Deerfield, Bonnie Brickman, a former employee of the Fell Company, offers primarily clothing for young men through high school as well as some menswear at Guys & Co.
Though Mark Shale will close in December ending a long era of men’s shopping at Northbrook Court, some of the local competitors do not think it bodes well for the community. “No one wants to see this,” Galam said. “It’s not worth the collateral damage.