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Archive for Saturday, October 2, 1999

MASS. EXODUS CONTINUING

October 2, 1999

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Campbell's Clothing will close later this year, ending another longtime family business in downtown Lawrence.

Another family-owned downtown retailer is closing shop, a victim of changing lifestyles and booming retail growth along South Iowa Street.

After 35 years selling tailored suits, slacks and shirts on Massachusetts Street, Campbell's Clothing will close later this year, owner Win Campbell said.

Popularity of "business casual" attire and "dress down" Fridays cut into Campbell's core business of fine-tailored clothing for businessmen, he said. Increasing catalog sales and booming Internet commerce solidified the decision.

Sales have been flat for the past couple of years, Campbell said, and down about 10 percent from 1994.

"The timing of this is probably good," he said. "For us to go forward we would have needed a ton of restructuring. " We thought about a whole image change -- from the tailored to the sportswear market -- but that would have required a significant effort.

"It's just time."

Instead, Campbell will move a couple doors down and assist his wife, Linda Campbell, in their successful Winfield House Home Furnishings business. Ken Campbell, the clothing store's general manager, will become a salesman for Laird Noller Automotive.

The clothing store at 841 Mass. is a throwback to days when men wore sportcoats, ties and hats not only to work, but to baseball games and other events as well.

In addition to racks, shelves and hangars stocked with 400 pairs of khaki pants, 800 suits and 1,200 ties, a John Wayne Winchester rifle is mounted on the wall above the store's red-brick steps. There's a table topped with flasks, money clips and a series of Col. Littleton pocket knives.

Upstairs, a shop tailor handles alterations.

"It's too bad we're losing this downtown fixture," said Peter Curran, a downtown attorney and Campbell's customer since 1966. "It's the kind of shop we need downtown."

Sarah Fayman, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc., cringed when told of Campbell's plans. Johnson Furniture, another downtown fixture, closed this summer after 35 years downtown, continuing a series of shifts brought on by rising rents, increasing property taxes and pressure from out-of-town developers and retailers.

Campbell's closing is just another unfortunate step in downtown's "natural evolution," the trade group president said.

"This is just a transition," said Fayman, owner of Sarah's Fabrics. "I'm not panicked by it, but it does bear watching. When we get a whole lot more chain stores than individual stores, then that will be bad, because it will change the character of downtown Lawrence."

Downtown will survive as long as it remains "one of the last vestiges" of unique shopping in the country, Win Campbell said, even as it faces competition brought on by Kohl's, SuperTarget, J.C. Penney, Sears and Wal-Mart on South Iowa.

"Their appetites for volumes are quite large, and have to be," he said. "Given the size of our community, it's getting a little bit out of line."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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