Six Klopfensteins Stores To Be Liquidated, Closed

Klopfensteins, the Seattle menswear retailer that for generations was a gathering place and known as a menswear store for "discriminating gentlemen," is ending more than 75 years of business in Washington.

The company's six Washington stores will be liquidated and closed. . Other stores sold by Hartmarx Corp. to Chicago-based HSSA Group Limited - including Littler and Ralph Lauren Polo Shop and three Klopfensteins stores in Portland - will remain open.

It is not yet clear exactly when the liquidation sale will begin, said Klopfensteins regional manager Ed Seward.

"I would guess starting next week sometime," Seward said.

Seward did not know how long the sale would last or when the stores would close their doors.

Klopfensteins has five stores in the Seattle area - downtown, Northgate, Bellevue, Alderwood Mall and Southcenter - and one in Tacoma. They employ about 100 people, many of whom have worked there for decades.

A week ago, Chicago-based Hartmarx Corp. announced it was selling Hartmarx Specialty Stores Inc., a group of about 190 stores nationwide including Klopfensteins, Littler and the downtown Seattle Ralph Lauren Polo Shop, to HSSA. It said it planned to close two-thirds of the stores it purchased but did not specify which ones.

Historically, Klopfensteins strength has been tailored clothing, noted Seattle retail consultants Dick Outcalt and Pat Johnson of Outcalt & Johnson. But these days, less tailored clothing is being bought. And what is bought often is purchased at nontraditional menswear retailers, such as outlet stores and discounters.

Also, growing competition from Nordstrom and The Bon probably cut into Klopfensteins market share in the past 10 to 15 years, Johnson said. The result was that they were caught in the middle, squeezed from both sides.

In recent years, Klopfensteins scaled down its clothing prices, selling $300 suits in addition to those priced at $800 to $900, to appeal to increasingly tight-fisted consumers. Apparently, it didn't work.

Klopfensteins joins the long list of traditional Seattle retailers that have gone out of business or left downtown Seattle in recent years. Most notable was Frederick & Nelson, which also once catered to the carriage trade and shared the same corner, at Sixth and Pine, with a Klopfensteins store until the past few years.

Started in Tacoma in 1920 as Mason & Klopfenstein, the company opened a store in Seattle on Second Avenue in 1924. A year later, co-founder Clarence Klopfenstein bought out his partner and changed the store name. Later, the store moved to Fourth Avenue, then to Sixth Avenue in 1967.

Dr. Karl Klopfenstein, a son of the founder and a brother of the late Hugh Klopfenstein, who carried on the business until it was sold to Hartmarx about 30 years ago, recalls the business as a family-run operation. All three sons worked in the first store when they were in high school and the rest of the family came down and helped out when there was a strike.

And the senior Klopfenstein presided over it all. Elegantly, of course, with a cane and spats.

Klopfenstein said the imminent closure of the stores was "a very sad moment. This has affected everyone because all the members of my family, including my wife, have worked there at one time or another."

Klopfensteins' first Seattle store attracted a clientele of Seattle's movers and shakers, including pioneers, city councilmen, business leaders - even Teamster boss Dave Beck.

That particular strata of clientele was to remain the stores' stronghold for many years - men who often belonged to the Seattle Golf Club, Seattle Tennis Club, Seattle Yacht Club, the Rainier Club - and ran Seattle.

Upon its opening in 1967, the Sixth Avenue store was described in a Seattle Times story as "elegantly masculine but . . . friendly," with clothing laid out on solid-looking, antique tables, and belts displayed on an old-fashioned lamp-post stand. Despite the masculine emphasis, the store also sold classic, tailored women's clothing in a shop decorated with sconces and crystal chandeliers.

That store became a gathering place for downtown Seattle businessmen, recalls Klopfenstein. Often, dozens of businessmen would come to the store after work - perhaps joining in a casual game of miniature golf played around the clothing racks - before moving on to Rosellini's restaurant, and home.

"In a way," Klopfenstein murmured, "I'm glad neither my brother nor my father are alive to witness this. . . ."