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Hubert White Celebrates 100 Years of Business


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Hubert White owner Bob White, photographed at Hubert White

Courtesy Hubert White

Minnesota is celebrated for its heritage brands that have proven the test of time, such as Red Wing Shoes, J.W. Hulme Co., Duluth Pack, and Faribault Woolen Mill. But another Minnesota company has quietly just turned the corner on a century in business.

This month, Minneapolis menswear store Hubert White marks its 100th year of business—making it one of Minnesota's oldest family-owned and -operated companies. The store has weathered the Great Depression and the recent recession while evolving to serve the needs of its customers today.

The shop, a haberdashery, was first opened by Hubert “Bert” White in St. Paul in 1916. The inspiration for the shop came to him while working as a salesperson selling threads, buttons, and linings to retail stores and tailor shops throughout the Midwest. He noticed that St. Paul was the only town on these visits that didn’t have a store, so he got his father-in-law to secure financing—$5,600 and a $200-per-month salary—to start the new store. (F. Scott Fitzgerald was reportedly a loyal customer.) The St. Paul store moved across the street to the First National Bank Building in 1933 and the first Minneapolis store opened in the Radisson Hotel in 1939. In the 1940s, around 18 men’s clothing stores competed in the Twin Cities—and of those, only Hubert White remains. In the 1950s, the Minneapolis store was moved to Marquette Avenue, where it stayed for the next 50 years, by Bert and his son, Hubert (Bill) W. White, Jr., who joined the company after WWII. Bob White, grandson of the founder and its current owner, joined the firm along with Brad Sherman, now VP and General Manager, in the 1970s. The St. Paul store was closed in 1987, and after 50 years on Marquette, moved its Minneapolis store to its current home at IDS Center in 2000.

With 100 years under its well-crafted belt, Hubert White is not only the oldest menswear store in Minnesota, it’s one of the oldest in the country. And it’s stuck around, thanks not only to its dedication to service, but to its ability to evolve over the years in order to stay relevant. The store not only carries a broad range of suiting by Italian suiting lines Ermenegildo Zegna, Isaia, and Brunello Cucinelli, as well as Canadian company Samuelson, plus Oxxford Clothes (another heritage brand that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary), Alden shoes, and 3x1 premium denim. And menswear aficionados outside of Minnesota have taken notice—In 2014, Esquire named the store one of the best men's specialty stores in the country. The store is celebrating its anniversary with an installation featuring menswear on display and video illustrating the retailer’s story over the years in the IDS Crystal Court, on view now through November 11.

I recently sat down and chatted with Bob White about the store’s history, its approach to doing business, and why Hubert White has managed to thrive for a century throughout changing times.

Courtesy Hubert White

The Hubert White 100th Anniversary installation in the IDS Crystal Court

How has Hubert White evolved over the years while maintaining its heritage?

“Evolved is the right word—things are always evolving. During my grandfather's era, it was more elegant. When my dad took over the store from my grandpa, right after WWII, all the GIs were coming back, starting the trend of loose-fitting, more casual khaki pants and a more natural shoulder. When I came on board, in the early- to mid-’70s when my dad was phasing out of the business, I came in with Brad Sherman and we moved it beyond that, into a more elegant look like my grandfather's era, and took on more international vendors. As the dressed-down look came, we took on casual wear. We now sell a fair amount of premium denim, which would have appalled my dad.”

One major change in the way men dress today is the movement toward business-casual in the workplace and an overall more casual look. How have you addressed that without losing touch of your suiting heritage?

“We embraced the change from a dressier look to a dressed-down look. We have clients who only dress casually, we have clients who only dress formally, and we have clients who do it all. Some of our best clients are the ones who just dress casually, but they still want to look good. Just because you're casual means your unkempt or sloppy, so it cuts both ways. People have different wardrobes and dress differently on a different day. That being said, I feel that we would have a much, much larger share of the more formal dressing than we did years ago, just because so many of our one-time competitors are out of business.”

Courtesy Hubert White

The Hubert White 100th Anniversary installation in the IDS Crystal Court

What is the thread that connects the Hubert White of today to the original store?

“What we never changed, from my grandfather's era to my dad's era to my era, was the relationships. People will say to me, what's been the key to your success? And certainly, the things we sell, the apparel we sell, is very key. The location is key. But the linchpin is the relationships we have with our clients and the staff and service we have. The tailor shop is an integral part of the whole operation. But you can't get there with just relationships, you also need the service and the products.”

What goes into getting a custom-made suit?

"Made-to-measure is a huge chunk of our business—about a third. It allows the client to have darn-near an unlimited selection of fabrics, and it allows us to detail the suit to the specific fits and desires of the client. As far as the process goes, the person comes to the back of the store, we select a vendor—we have at least half a dozen vendors—and we go through and select a fabric. Then we have them try on suits. Since we have the luxury of having a store, clients can try on a garment that's close to what they’re looking for, so that's very helpful. That gives the client the idea as to how it's going to fit, and gives us the idea as to some of the particulars regarding fit. Then we send in the fabric to the vendor and reserve the fabric, and it’s shipped out to us anywhere from three to seven weeks later.”

What do you think is unique about Hubert White's heritage?

"It's one thing to be an entity for a hundred years, that's a small group. but then you say a family-owned entity, that becomes very small. We hired a young man for the sales floor yesterday, and said I don't know how you're going to take this, but know that people who come to work here typically stay here a long time. Same thing goes for our product sourcing—it's about consistency. We believe in loyalty, and we expect it in return."

The Hubert White 100th Anniversary installation is now on view at IDS Crystal Court during business hours through Nov. 11. Hubert White is located at 747 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-339-9200, hubertwhite.com

Hubert White through the decades:

Courtesy Hubert White

Hubert White in the 1920s

Courtesy Hubert White

The new St. Paul store in 1935, with Hubert in the middle and son Bill on the left

Courtesy Hubert White

Hubert White's storefront in the 1930s

Courtesy Hubert White

The Hubert White store and Hubert (Bill) W. White, Jr. in the 1950s

Courtesy Hubert White

An Oxxford Clothes window at Hubert White during the '50s

Courtesy Hubert White

Bill White putting the final touches on the new downtown St. Paul store in the 1970s

Courtesy Hubert White

Bob White showing customers our new St. Paul store in the 1970s

Courtesy Hubert White

The St. Paul store in the 1970s

Courtesy Hubert White

A page from the Hubert White catalog in the '70s

Courtesy Hubert White

Bob White and Brad Sherman at Hubert White in the 1980s

Courtesy Hubert White

Courtesy Hubert White

Hubert White ads from the '80s

Courtesy Hubert White

Hubert White in the 1990s

Courtesy Hubert White

Hubert White in the 2010s

Courtesy Hubert White

The Hubert White store today

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