Brian Lefko remembers the day a salesman walked in to Sam Glass and Son clothing store on Gay Street looking to interest him in buying some Pierre Cardin.
"Who is Pierre Cardin? We don't want that junk," Lefko remembers thinking. Back then the French designer wasn't in the vocabulary of a Baltimore men's shop buyer.
Forty-some years later, Lefko notes that nearly all the other manufacturers he used to sell are gone. And now Lefko, who has seen a lot in 45 years in the clothing business, is planning to shut the doors of his store on Reisterstown Road just south of Pikesville.
The days are over when men dressed in suits as a matter of course, and it is hard for small businesses to keep going in an era when large retailers prevail. Lefko says many of his longtime customers are in their 80s, living in Florida with their feet in a swimming pool and not particularly in need of suits.
However, Lefko does retain faithful customers. At 86, retired professor Homer Favor decided to buy "three or four suits" last week and to stock up on Christmas presents. Favor, who has been buying from Lefko for decades, says in the old days he was interested in getting a good deal on top-of-the-line fashion.
As a professor of economics and urban studies at Morgan State University, Favor never appeared on campus without a coat and tie. "I didn't think anybody was more important than my students at Morgan," he said. The respect he showed them was repaid: They all dressed up too.
When Lefko started in the business, dozens of manufacturers in Baltimore sold to retail stores throughout the city. He ticks off the names of now-defunct wholesalers: London Fog, Aetna Shirt Co., Misty Harbor and Well Made Pants Co. "When I started off, you could supply a store without leaving town," he said. Now, the sewing is done overseas and Lefko goes to Las Vegas to do his buying.
His shop, Brian Lefko's Men's Clothiers, opened on Reisterstown Road 17 years ago. He founded it after Sam Glass and Son closed and he couldn't find another job as a buyer. "There was nothing in Baltimore that could handle my talents," Lefko says, adding that he has dressed a diverse clientele from all across town, including prominent lawyers, doctors, funeral directors, legislators and broadcasters. Recently, though, business has been down and, at 64, Lefko said it's time to close up shop.
There's a chance he may sell the business, but if he does it won't retain his name.