Sometimes even tradition — which made you a venerable institution in Philadelphia — has to take a backseat.
Boyds, the cathedral for men’s tailored suits on 1818 Chestnut St., with marble floors, high ceilings, large Pantheonlike columns, and distinctive blue awning, is undergoing a massive $10 million redo, both internally and externally.
In less than two weeks, the brand will start selling merchandise online at Boydsphila.com for the first time in its 79-year history.
There’s a deliberate outreach to attract more women by moving women’s wear and accessories from the third floor to the first and mezzanine levels — giving them prime window display alongside menswear — to alter perceptions of the store, said third-generation owner and Boyds president Kent Gushner.
“We’re building a whole new store to meet 21st-century needs,” said Gushner on a tour Thursday of the top-to-bottom changes. His brothers-in-law Jeff Glass and Ralph Yaffe, who were also partners in the family business, retired about six weeks ago, leaving Gushner at the helm.
In addition, some seamstresses and tailors who work in Boyds’ fifth floor “nerve center,” so called because of the vital role of tailors to Boyds’ business, will move to the first, second, and third levels, mingling directly with customers and associates, giving customers a view of their craft.
To sweeten the online shopping experience that launches the first week of October, Gushner said, a Boyds online customer will be matched with an in-store sales associate to answer any questions about a Boyds product or service.
“We want brick and mortar to support the online, and vice versa,” Gushner said. “That’s what will set us apart.”
It hired online marketing manager Jenna Cooperstein and store marketing director Frank Bellina to get Boydsphila.com off the ground.
The outreach to women is just as significant.
“We need to make Boyds more inviting and warmer to women,” Gushner said. “They really had to work to get to women’s wear on the third floor.
“We believe we can grow our women’s business substantially beyond where it is now,” he said. “Women’s has tremendous upside for us. By repositioning women’s wear and accessories, it lets women know when they walk in that they are in a women’s store for the first time.”
The entire mezzanine will display an expanded inventory of women’s shoes, handbags, jewelry, and accessories.
“Part of our research kind of informed us and confirmed that a lot women still look at Boyds as a big luxury men’s store with a women’s department,” Gushner said. “After this, the perception will begin to alter to be more aligned to what we want to be as a destination for women and men.”
He is leaning a bit more these days on his eldest son, Alex, to help with the renovation and to move Boyds in a new direction.
At 28, Alex just happens to be a millennial, a demographic coveted by retailers. His expanding role is not by accident.
Online men’s fashion retailers like Bonobos and UnTUCKit, which cater to millennials, have recently opened stores on posh Walnut Street.
The elder Gushner doesn’t mind referring to Boyds as the “anti-Bonobos.”
“The question is not whether can we compete with them, but whether they can compete with us,” he said. “We offer so much more in terms of service, selection, and enduring relationships.”
The backbone of Boyds’ business is men’s tailored clothing, and that will be re-merchandised and relocated from the second floor to the third.
Men’s sportswear, footwear, and dress furnishings will take over the entire second floor.
For the first time, Gushner said, the second and third levels will be divided. One side of each floor will be classic and luxury, with the other side contemporary and designer for younger men.
He acknowledged the new generation of menswear retailers is partly behind Boyds’ redesign, which will include more hip music on the contemporary and designer sides of the second and third floors, and LED screens throughout the store that will feature videos of how Boyds’ merchandise comes to life — from a customer picking out a suit fabric to a dress being designed.
“It will be like a series of fashion shows,” Alex Gushner said. “People walking by the store will be able to watch the screens and see what’s going on inside, and customers inside can watch what’s going on throughout the store.”
Kent Gushner said the renovations began six months ago and work moved to the first level and mezzanine about two weeks ago. Construction will continue for about another year.
On Monday, demolition work will begin on the first floor and migrate to the mezzanine. Shoppers entering Boyds will be led to a corridor from the entrance to elevators to whisk them off to the other floors.
The third and second levels will follow.
Gushner said it was important to note that Boyds will be open for business throughout the renovation.
“This is a rebranding and repositioning of the store,” he said. “It’s something that has been in the works for three years … and in response to research we have done and listening to the desires of our clients to improve the overall store experience.”
As a Philadelphia-born-and-bred landmark, there was another reason.
“We realize that on the surface, we are swimming upstream, but … we feel there is an audience in the market with the city growing and continuing to improve,” he said. “We feel there will be a demand for brick-and-mortar stores, but brick-and-mortar stores that will really be able to deliver.”