Hankin Bros. closing landmark Hampden store


It didn't take long for word to spread throughout the Hampden neighborhood that Hankin Brothers was planning to close.

The 36th Street business district, known as the Avenue, is losing its family-owned-and-operated men's shop headed by two cousins.

Marvin Hankin, 68, and Mike Hankin, 69, are known throughout these parts interchangeably as "Hank."

In their day, they seemed to know every inseam and shirt size in postal Zone 11.

"This has been a very good neighborhood for us. I am leaving with mixed emotions. It's not the business I mind giving up. It's the people," said Mike Hankin a few days ago.

For the past few weeks, old customers have been dropping back in the old-fashioned shop for a last look. They are not necessarily buying, but they want to see the place where they got their confirmation suit.

"Writers like William Saroyan or John Steinbeck would have had a great time in Hampden. The story is the people," he added.

The cousins say there is not enough business left on 36th Street to support their keeping the doors open.

"In the 1950s there were five or six men's shops along the street. There were also women's shops and children's stores. The presence of all that retail drew people here. We're about the last of all that crew," said Marvin Hankin.

Other situations have also changed Hampden.

"Not as many of our old customers live here any more. There was a time when the husband might have been employed at Schenuit Tire and his wife worked at the Noxell factory. We had a lot of top-notch craftsmen, tool and die makers. And railroaders too. Well, plenty of our customers worked hard and saved. And they moved away. There was a shift to the Shrewsbury part of Pennsylvania. One tells the other and soon a lot of people have left," Marvin Hankin said.

The firm takes its name from Abraham and Samuel Hankin, the fathers of Mike and Marvin. As immigrants to the United States, they landed at Locust Point in 1913. Their father, Chaim, subsequently sailed over and joined his sons in their tailoring business. In 1919 they opened at 36th Street and Chestnut Avenue, an intersection locally known as Scott's Corner.

"There was a fish store nearby and the odor annoyed my father so they moved to 1021 W. 36th St. in 1935," Marvin Hankin said.

At first, the family made custom tailored blue and black serge suits.

"After you had apprenticed for four years, your test was whether you could make a Prince Albert-style tuxedo. If your suit passed inspection, you were a journeyman tailor," Mike Hankin said.

In earlier times, the Hankins courted the business from their own immediate neighborhood as well as adjacent places such as Roland Park and the University Parkway district, where their tailoring customers -- including women -- wanted their entire wardrobes altered.

Aside from outfitting Hampden men and boys in their work pants, dress shirts, socks, belts and BVDs, the shop also served another function -- a source of financial advice. For 42 years Marvin Hankin has helped prepare thousands of income tax forms for neighborhood residents.

"Sometimes I would show people they were eligible for a tax credit on their real estate taxes. Often their response was 'We don't want any charity,' " he said.

The cousins recall one Saturday morning when a sailor came into the store at 11 o'clock.

"He needed a suit of clothes for his own wedding at noon. He needed the pants shortened and the coat fixed. We had it ready and he made his own wedding," Marvin Hankin said.

The cousins have noted other changes.

"Guys go into a thrift store and buy a pair of pants for say $2. Then they come in here to have the length fixed. We can't compete with thrift stores," Mike Hankin said.

The old 36th Street business district has suffered some hard losses this year. Two mainstays, the Howard Heiss jewelry store and the Benson hardware store, closed.

And by the end of the year, Hankin Brothers will be added to that list.

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