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Bigsby & Kruthers, a men’s wear institution in Chicago, is being resurrected.
This story first appeared in the November 10, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The business, which closed in 2000, has signed on as a tenant at a new development, Block 37, slated to open in downtown Chicago this fall. The store will be operated by one of its original owners, Joe Silverberg, in concert with Jack Shniderman of Robert Vance, an upscale men’s wear store in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire, Ill.
“Joe and I have been talking about this for a couple of years,” Shniderman told WWD on Wednesday. He noted that some of the employees at Robert Vance were formerly with Bigsby and customers still mention Bigsby when shopping. “I called Joe and told him I thought the Bigsby & Kruthers name is still viable. He was open to the idea, so we started scouting locations.”
After 18 months, the duo came across Block 37, a mixed-use project with 280,000 square feet of retail space on State Street. It is located across the street from Macy’s, formerly Marshall Field’s, and will encompass a full city block. A hotel, restaurants and offices will also be part of the project, which has signed Ben Sherman, Puma, Zara, Anthropologie and Aveda, among others, as part of its retail mix.
“When Joe and I saw the project, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is it,’” Shniderman said. “It’s at the edge of the financial district, the edge of the theater district and across from the old Marshall Field’s. And we like the idea that the project is going to help revitalize State Street.”
Silverberg said he’s owned the name of the business since it closed and a call from a company that deals in dormant brands a couple of years ago convinced him it was time for a return. “The name never got dragged through the mud so it was time to bring it back,” he said.
Bigsby will take 9,000 square feet on the second floor of the project, which will allow the store to present a comprehensive assortment of men’s wear as well as a smaller representation of women’s. “It’s going to be a bit younger than the old Bigsby,” Shniderman said. He said downtown Chicago is full of schools and there are 80,000 young people and their parents that the store is hoping to attract. “There will also be an opportunity for a 30-year-old businessman looking for a specialty store environment and some interesting, edgy product.”
Shniderman said the store will not turn away more-mature customers either, noting, “There will be something for everyone.”
He declined to mention brand names at this point, calling it “a work in progress. But we’ve already talked to some vendors and there will be some dedicated shops.” Tailored clothing will represent 30 percent of the mix and sportswear the remainder. There will also be an area for custom clothing.
Ironically, the news of Bigsby’s return came two days after another important Chicago men’s wear player, Mark Shale, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said it would close five of its eight stores and put the remaining units up for sale.
“It was just a giant coincidence,” Shniderman said. “We’d heard rumors about Mark Shale for a month or so, but we just signed our lease yesterday.”
Although he acknowledged the “climate is a bit difficult now,” Shniderman believes that “adversity creates real opportunity. When times get better, we’ll be well-positioned to benefit. It’ll be great.”
Silverberg opened the first Bigsby & Kruthers store with his brother, Gene Silverberg, in Chicago in 1970. Gene Silverberg will not be involved in the new project. Joe Silverberg said there is no bad blood between the brothers. “I probably missed [the business] more than he did,” he said. Silverberg also noted that the new business is “well capitalized, so that’s not an issue.”
Shniderman, a native of Chicago, began his career at Eric Salm in Lincoln Village. Recruited by Robert Vance Ltd. in 1979 as a buyer, he worked his way up to president of the company with three retail stores and an outlet. He bought the company in 1985.
In a statement, Larry Freed, president of Joseph Freed and Associates LLC, the project’s developer, said: “Putting a Bigsby & Kruthers store in the heart of downtown Chicago on this historic block is especially appropriate when you consider the strength and longevity of the Bigsby brand in Chicago.”
After 30 years in business, Bigsby & Kruthers fell on hard times in the late Nineties and filed for bankruptcy in 2000. It was liquidated later that year.