Family-run Cohen's Clothiers to close after 115 years in Baltimore region

After 115 years in the retail business in Baltimore and Cockeysville, the family-run Cohen’s Clothiers — which specializes in the preppy attire popular across this prep-school-rich region — is closing its doors for good.

Gilbert Cohen, the 81-year-old owner whose grandfather Max first opened the store on South Broadway in Fells Point in 1904, said he will begin a liquidation sale on Wednesday.

“‘Bittersweet’ is obviously a good word here,” he said.

The 10,000-square-foot store, which has been at 64 Cranbrook Road in Cockeysville since 1969, has 28 employees, many of whom have been there for a long time. Some will retire, but others will have to find new jobs, Cohen said — and he said he’s going to do his best to help them land on their feet.

“I feel bad about the fact that some of these people who have been here a long time are now unemployed, or are facing unemployment, but there’s nothing I could do about it,” he said.

The store just has too many factors going against it, he said: He’s getting old. Online sales have cut into retail sales in recent years. His lease is up in April, and the owner of the shopping center has plans to redevelop but few details about when and in what way.

Cohen said he can’t sign a new lease “without really knowing what this center is going to be.” Maybe he could if he was 25 again. But now not.

Still, calling it quits is tough.

Cohen’s grandfather emigrated from today’s Ukraine around 1888, renamed himself Max Cohen — a good Jewish name, he felt — and worked as a pushcart peddler in West Virginia and Baltimore before opening his first store in Fells Point, Cohen said.

Cohen’s father, Aaron M. Cohen, eventually took over the business, and the family lived above the store when Gilbert Cohen was a kid.

When the family moved the store in 1969, Cockeysville was “pretty rural and pretty rustic,” but they slowly built up a loyal clientele, he said.

For decades they focused on menswear, but in more recent years expanded into attire for women and boys and girls. Cohen said he’s become close friends with customers. He met Pat, his current wife and an employee, at the store. He lives just six minutes away. And he works seven days a week, except for when he’s on vacation and going to trade shows.

Cohen said he has always loved the “satisfaction in the exchange of something [customers] valued, which was their money, for something we valued, which was our merchandise,” and will miss that.

Closing will be “a transition for me that I am going to have to confront,” he said. “I’m pretty convinced it’s the right decision.”

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