In its 81st and final year in the menswear business, Sam Glass & Son Inc. is showing its age.
The racks that once drew shoppers from around the city to the 4,000-square-foot Gay Street store are plastered with going-out-of-business signs. One in particular drives home the message that this is Sam Glass' swan song:
"All Sales Final," it says. "No checks . . . No refunds . . . No returns . . . No exchanges . . . No store credits . . . No charge credits . . . No layaways."
The liquidation sale has been going on for several weeks now -- it's expected to last until February. But three of the company's creditors this week filed a petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to force Sam Glass into involuntary bankruptcy under Chapter 7, claiming debts of more than $133,000.
The tactic is common when retailers are about to close and reflects the creditors' desire to assure "an orderly accounting and disposition of assets," said Paul Walter, Sam Glass' attorney.
Mr. Walter said the company has not decided whether to oppose the bankruptcy petition. He said the closing is "just a product of the general economy and the hard times in the men's retailing business."
Baltimore has seen the demise of its share of men's clothiers in recent times, including Bernard Hill, g.Briggs, Goldbloom's and Reamer's.
"The industry is tough because you're dealing with a commodity product today," said Herbert Reamer, whose chain closed in 1991. "If you have suits in your closet from five years ago, they probably don't look a lot different than they do today."
With men's fashions changing so little, he said, the low-price, wide variety formula that Sam Glass pioneered generations ago has been copied successfully by department stores and other mall-based clothiers.
Only a few specialty shops, such as Gage Menswear and the recently resurgent Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, have been able to thrive lately.
It used to be that "if you wanted a big selection at a good price [Sam Glass was] the only game in town," Mr. Reamer said. "You could call them the original discounter, before the word was fashionable."
In fact, Samuel Glass started his business after the turn of the century by selling slightly damaged and irregular clothes, and even secondhand apparel bought from the families of the recently deceased, said Brian Lefko, a longtime Glass salesman who started his own store this year on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.
Sam's son, Morris, moved the business from its original location at 139 Front Street to its current Gay Street shop and "really built up the business," Mr. Lefko said.
"Morris Glass had a great reputation . . . [he was] a true mensch," he added, using the Yiddish word to describe an honest person and a good soul. "People used to say you could do business with him on a handshake."
Morris' son, Adam Glass, took over the operation when his father died in 1986. He could not be reached for comment this week.
But several clerks and salesmen in the store the other day looked back fondly on a business that provided the first good suit for generations of Baltimore boys and men.
On the wall near the cash register hangs the original sign from the Front Street store. A candidate for one of Baltimore's Jewish historical museums, it says in both English and transliterated Hebrew: "Men's & Boys' Clothing . . . Wholesale & Retail."