Friday, December 26, 2014

This uneducated consumer will miss Syms

The bankruptcy and impending closure of the off-price apparel chain means change will come to my closet ... eventually.

This uneducated consumer will miss Syms

Even for those of us in the news business, some stories just hit home.

In my case, word Wednesday that the discount retailer Syms Corp. had filed for bankruptcy -- and intends to close forever -- hit my closet.

Half of the dozen suits or sportcoats that I own have come from Syms over the years. Most of the rest came from another defunct chain, Today’s Man Inc., once based in Moorestown.

This is not to brag about my fashion sense (I have none) nor my shopping acumen (I do as little shopping as possible). I bought clothing at Syms or Today’s Man out of necessity because of a size problem.

At 5-foot-7, I am 2 inches shorter than the average height for males over the age of 20, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even though major retailers say they carry coats that are 36 regular, often there are just one or two. Clerks, in an effort to be helpful, occasionally directed me to the young men’s shop. Trust me, that isn’t the ego boost it may sound like.

Given that I’m not fashion-oriented, Syms over the years proved to be as reliable and cheap a place to buy suits as I’d found.

Its slogan -- “An educated consumer is our best customer” -- was lost on me. I wouldn’t care if the clothing label said Dolce & Gabbana or Lea & Perrins. But I liked paying $10 for ties and belts and finding decent suits for less than $100.

Unfortunately, for the Secaucus, N.J.-based chain, its management made an uneducated bet in 2009 when it bought Boston icon Filene’s Basement, a discount women’s apparel chain that had filed for bankruptcy on two occasions. Less than two years later, Syms and Filene’s sank back into bankruptcy with plans to liquidate and close all 46 stores by the end of January.

My shopping habits certainly didn’t help Syms’ bottom line. (It posted net losses in 11 of its last 14 quarters.) I have suits older than my kids, T-shirts that predate my marriage.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I shopped at Syms. It may have been when I bought a white suit for one of my sons who was playing a gangster in a school play back in 2009.

So, on Thursday morning, I paid a visit to the 69,000-square-foot building that Syms owns and shares with the Devon Fitness Club on Swedesford Road in Berwyn.

Even in Syms’ perilous financial state, I found 18 36-regular suits and 10 sportcoats in the same size hanging on the racks as music by Electric Light Orchestra played over the store’s sound system.

I kept thinking, “I’ll have to find a new place to buy suits.” Truthfully, though, if I’m still pining for Today’s Man, which went bankrupt in 2003, it’s not like I’ll be frantically scouring the Philadelphia area for men’s stores that carry my size.

After all, Syms did, but my credit card on Thursday stayed right where it has for the last two years. In my wallet.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
About this blog
Mike Armstrong blogs about Philadelphia corporations and business-related topics. Contact him at 215-854-2980. Reach Mike at marmstrong@phillynews.com.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
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