Louis Boston, one of the most highly regarded and directional specialty stores in the U.S., will close its doors in July after 90 years in business.
This story first appeared in the January 12, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Debi Greenberg, owner and the fourth generation to operate the family-owned business, admitted that it was a tough decision, but stressed the store continues to perform well. The decision to close stemmed from the continuing development of the area where the store is located.
“It’s sad,” she said. “But I’m 60 years old. We moved five years ago to an area at the end of a parking lot, but it had the most beautiful view in the world.” Louis, which was the anchor of Boston’s main shopping area for more than 20 years, took the plunge in 2010 and relocated from Newbury Street in the Back Bay neighborhood to a two-story, 20,000-square-foot location at Fan Pier, a 21-acre swath of South Boston waterfront that was being redeveloped from a parking wasteland to a new luxury neighborhood. Since the store relocated, Fan Pier has added high-end condominiums and a museum of contemporary art and pharmaceutical companies have also opened offices there, Greenberg said.
“Moving to the Seaport gave us the opportunity to continue to evolve and change, and what most people saw as a risk proposition actually proved to be extremely positive for Louis,” said Greenberg. “We are now surrounded by what has become a district of innovation.”
The developer is seeking to build another condo community at the site and recently approached Louis about its location. “They want to build a second condo development right on our footprint,” she explained. “They asked if they could build me another store, but they wanted a commitment for 10 to 15 years. This lease would have been up in 2020, and I was going to retire then. This just speeded up the decision.”
Greenberg said business at the store has been strong in recent years and that it did not enter into her decision to close.
“Business is on point at our current location with steady year-over-year growth,” she said, “but after 25 years of extensive travel to Paris, London and New York five months a year in search of the world’s finest clothing, it is simply time to change direction and turn my attention to projects and passions outside the retail arena.” She said that since Fan Pier became so popular, Louis has attracted a lot of customers in the high-tech area. “We got that kind of customer and it was great,” she said. “Our business has been amazing.”
Greenberg bought both the men’s and women’s merchandise for the store, making for a long and grueling buying season.
She learned the high-end retail trade at the feet of her father, Murray Pearlstein, a legendary merchant who died in April 2013. In the late Sixties, Pearlstein transformed the store that was founded by his father and uncle and is credited with being among the first to import Europe’s high-end designers including Giorgio Armani, Brioni and Luciano Barbera. He became known internationally as a retailer’s retailer, a visionary and a merchant with an inimitable sense of style. Highly opinionated and often controversial, Pearlstein built a landmark store and is one of a handful of merchants, along with Fred Pressman of Barneys New York, credited with transforming the men’s wear industry in the U.S.
At the time of his death, Ralph Lauren said: “Murray Pearlstein was one of the leading creative minds of the men’s specialty store world. He had his own design philosophy that shaped his store and its products. He had a voice and that voice was Louis Boston.”
Upon hearing of Louis’ impending closure on Friday, Joseph Abboud, a Boston native who spent 12 years working for Louis part time as a salesman during college and then as a buyer, said: “To me, Louis was legendary, and I owe any success I have to Murray Pearlstein. He was Louis. He was all about moving tailoring ahead in a forward way. He was a true genius.” Abboud believes Louis’ heyday was from the mid-Sixties to the early Eighties. “He found brands that no one else had — that was Murray. Even though it was a Boston landmark, it was globally known. This is a sad day.”
Since taking over the day-to-day operations of the store in 2003, Greenberg has followed in her father’s footsteps, scouring the market. Louis had its share of ups and downs over the years, including an ill-fated short stint in New York City at the end of the Eighties.
Despite the challenges, Louis generally prospered in its home town, where it continue to be a trendsetter. Among the men’s brands carried in the store today are Kiton, Belvest, Massimo Bizzocchi, Tim Coppens, Greg Lauren and Common Projects. Women’s labels include Jason Wu, Haider Ackermann, Baja East and Schai.
The store will close after its annual sale in July. After that, Greenberg’s plans are not set. “I just want to make sure my employees and vendors are OK, then I’ll think about it.”
Greenberg said she never considered selling the business or bringing in a partner. She said her 22-year-old daughter has “an amazing job” in a different industry and “is not ready for this yet. Maybe someday she may want to do it, and she can, but not now. The option will be open to her.”
The thought of the store being operated by someone outside the family is repugnant to her. “I don’t think I could bear it,” she said.