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Award-winning luxury men’s clothier J.S. Edwards closing after 38 years in Pikesville

J.S. Edwards, one of the Baltimore region’s few remaining high-end men’s clothiers, is closing after nearly four decades in Pikesville.

Opened in 1983 in the Pikesville Hilton Inn Plaza, the award-winning boutique quickly became a favorite among politicians, athletes, local news anchors and lawyers. Over the decades, its co-owner and president Edward “Eddie” Steinberg amassed a following of loyal clients.

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“We were always busy,” said Frederick Bianco, a model who began frequenting the boutique in 1993 and later worked there part-time. He estimates 75% of his wardrobe was purchased at J.S. Edwards.

“People would come in and I’d greet them — immediately [they’d say] ‘is Eddie here?’,” he said. “I had to get used to that.”

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Edward Steinberg is retiring and is closing his 38-year-old menswear boutique J.S. Edwards in Pikesville. He and his wife Diane Steinberg put up signs for the shop's final sales, which started last Thursday.
Edward Steinberg is retiring and is closing his 38-year-old menswear boutique J.S. Edwards in Pikesville. He and his wife Diane Steinberg put up signs for the shop's final sales, which started last Thursday. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Steinberg and his wife Diane, who co-owns the high-end haberdashery carrying luxury designers such as Canali, Jack Victor and Robert Graham, decided to retire rather than renew their lease. They were among the first anchor tenants at the then new Festival At Woodholme shopping center when they signed on 33 years ago.

Eddie Steinberg said they made the decision to shutter the boutique rather than seek a new owner several years ago.

“There really is no succession to the business as far as someone buying it or taking it over,” he said. “We figure it was right going out on a good note.”

Steinberg has seen national trends play out within Woodholme — high-end art, jewelry and women’s boutiques that once filled the shopping center have been replaced with eateries, a Trader Joe’s and a Barnes & Noble.

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“Competition was pretty fierce when we first opened,” Steinberg said. “The number of [menswear] stores went down 90% from what it was in 1983.”

Nationally, men’s retailers had sales of $10.2 billion in 1992, according to U.S. Census data. In 2019 menswear stores grossed $8 billion in sales, according to the data. From March to December last year, sales fell to nearly $2.2 billion.

Those trends affected J.S. Edwards, too.

Attorneys weren’t going to court as often, businessmen were no longer meeting clients in person, and the need for formal menswear “dropped quite a bit,” Steinberg said.

During the pandemic, he pivoted to promoting more casual wear with his clients to keep business going.

Even on the online video conferencing program Zoom, “if you have a meeting, you want to look somewhat presentable,” he said. “You don’t want them to see you with this Budweiser shirt. You should have a nice polo or hoodie.”

The challenge now facing men’s retailers, Steinberg said, is “will [the need] come back?”

J.S. Edwards replaced Margoli Men’s Store, a menswear chain, when it closed its Hilton Inn location in the early 1980s. Hamburgers, a clothing store owned by German designer Hugo Boss AG, closed its Baltimore location in 1992. Gage World Class Mens Wear closed the last of its locations in 2006. Brian Lefko’s Men’s Clothier and Martin + Osa, a national chain that had locations in Columbia, Towson and Annapolis, both closed in 2011.

Steinberg carved his space in the niche market after getting his business management degree from the University of Baltimore. He got his start working as a buyer and sales representative at the Young Men’s Shop in Baltimore’s Hamilton neighborhood before it closed.

Learning of the clothier’s closure, Marc Terrill, president of The Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore and a J.S. Edwards client of 30 years, said his heart sank.

“It’s not just because ... of losing that place as a clothier,” Terrill said. “It was a feeling. It was the warmth and the kindness and the service.”

Clients said customer service set J.S. Edwards apart. If Steinberg knew Terrill was stopping by, he’d pull aside clothing he thought he would like before he arrived. Steinberg would visit clients’ homes and help clear out their closets, and help them match clothing they already owned. He custom-made clothing for clients with physical deformities. He organized numerous fashion shows to raise money for local charities.

“I think it’s really tough to find anything like that,” said Beth Rheingold, president of the Pikesville-Owings Mills Chamber of Commerce. “You can’t get that online.”

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated consumers’ trend toward online retailers, said Yajin Wang, an assistant professor in University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

There wasn’t a need for luxury clothing, with weddings and other large events canceled and indoor dining limited for much of the last year, she said.

Edward Steinberg, center, and wife Diane, right, are closing their 38-year-old menswear boutique J.S. Edwards because of retirement. The Steinbergs are helped by Rick Natelson, left, putting up signages for the shop's final sales this Thursday.
Edward Steinberg, center, and wife Diane, right, are closing their 38-year-old menswear boutique J.S. Edwards because of retirement. The Steinbergs are helped by Rick Natelson, left, putting up signages for the shop's final sales this Thursday. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Instead, casual wear became the attire of choice for many who have been working from home. National chains also were affected during the pandemic: Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank and Brooks Brothers were among menswear retailers whose parent companies filed for bankruptcy in the last year. Brooks Brothers closed its Harbor East store in January.

“I do think that trend is likely to stay at least to some extent,” Wang said.

After a year of remote work has proved to be as or even more efficient, many businesses may choose to cut costs by closing offices or reducing space, she said.

Rheingold is more optimistic.

“I actually believe the pandemic has taught consumers they want more personalized shopping,” she said. “I really do think we’re gonna swing in the opposite direction. People are sick of buying online and sick of the anonymity of that.”

Steinberg said he will use his retirement to volunteer more with local nonprofits, including the Pikesville-Owings Mills chamber, where he helped establish an annual 5K run to raise money for cancer research.

J.S. Edwards was voted “Baltimore’s Best” by Baltimore Magazine for 15 consecutive years and was recognized as one of Esquire Magazine’s Top 100 Men’s Specialty Stores in the U.S. The clothier also has been named Maryland Retailer of the Year.

J.S. Edwards’ closing sale starts Thursday.

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