Marvin Meyer is a scrapper.
He's survived a shopping center, two malls and the fickle tastes of shoppers through decades of style changes.
His Cy's of Catonsville remains a rarity among retail establishments, a street-level shop that was opened 51 years ago (by Meyer's parents) and remains, in essence, a mom-and-pop operation.
Today, the mom and pop are Meyer and his wife, Bella, who have seen the Frederick Road store through a 40-year metamorphosis. They've taken it from its early days as a variety clothing store to what it is today -- a boutique whose basic
goods are swimsuits and tuxedos.
That may seem a strange and limited mix, but it was one born of necessity and of Meyer's sure conviction that you give customers what they want.
"You don't stay in business 51 years and be arrogant," says Meyer, a gregarious 62-year-old whose lively ties and livelier talk are telling traits of a lifelong haber--er.
When he bought his parents' business (Cy was his father) in the mid-1950s, it was still the typical clothing store of its era: 2,000 square feet with men's pants neatly stacked on tables and shirts, socks and shirt collars packed in boxes.
Meyer remembers that stores displayed very little on hangers at the time, except for suits and dresses. "Hanging is something new," he says, something old-timers like himself have had to adapt to.
Now, he says, everything -- even socks -- is hung.
Back then, the store was called Cy's Toggery, but Bella thought the name confused people so they changed it to emphasize the location.
By then a new kind of competition was gaining momentum and the pressure to change was mounting.
Edmondson Village shopping center opened nearby, followed by Westview Mall in 1957.
But it wasn't until Columbia Mall opened in 1971 that Meyer said he really began to feel the competitors' pinch.
Before the mall in Columbia, Meyer says, he was still able to draw enough shoppers from the Catonsville area and eastern Howard County. But the mall pulled away many of those clients.
One exception in the early 1970s was a loyal woman customer, whose husband was a May Co. executive. Meyer says it
See STORE, F4, Col. 1 STORE, From F1 was she who suggested that the store carry Speedo brand swimwear, which at the time was difficult to find.
Meyer liked the idea. New neighborhoods were popping up everywhere, and each one seemed to have a new neighborhood pool, each with its own gaggle of young swim team members.
Meyer bought so many of the racing-style swim trunks that his store quickly became a warehouse for the brand. Swimmers flocked to the store to order suits in their team colors.
Today, 35 teams have signed on for Cy's to provide their team suits.
And the store has abandoned its wide array of apparel and expanded to carry all varieties of swimwear. Some 6,000 suits hang on racks throughout the shop, and Meyer boasts that he once sold actor Anthony Quinn two pairs of swim trunks.
Tuxedo rentals remain a holdover, added to the store's services 25 years ago. Because of the rentals, prom season is like the Christmas season for his store, he says.
He will not carry prom dresses, however. He says that while young women tend to be fickle, "six guys will come in and they all get black tuxedos."
OC Meyer says his fins-and-tails combination has kept business bus
Most of the year, there are between 15 and 17 salespeople on hand to give each customer personal attention, he says.
There are seven dressing rooms, each with a rose-tinted mirror ++ to give each shopper an instant tan.
Bella, a stylish woman who is the principal buyer for the store, says Cy's forte is finding the right suit for the right person.
She has a couple of rules of thumb:
* No designer labels. She buys only such brands as Speedo, Finals, Tyr, Arena, Hind and St. Tropez, all of which can be sold at moderate prices.
* French-cut bathing suits for women, with high leg holes, are not for everyone. "No woman over 25 should wear one," she says.
There is nothing more satisfying than finding the right suit for a tall, short or large woman, she says.
Ten years ago, Meyer became aware of the skateboard fad and stocked hundreds of boards. Today, a few boards can be found against a lower wall of the store, along with more current soccer and lacrosse equipment.
But sporting goods are relegated to a small corner of the store. Cy's mostly stocks swimsuits, a bare-bones, no-nonsense approach that Meyer says works in the faster mov
ing world of today's retail.
Malls, he says, can't compete with his inventory. Most mall stores stock only a limited number of swimsuits during the summer season.
Meyer marvels at the number of couples who come in for a wedding tuxedo and buy their honeymoon swimsuits while they're in the store.
With obvious pride in his ability to come out on top, he says, "My mother didn't raise no fool."