ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Anthony Andler of Heimie’s Haberdashery wants it to be more than just a store. To him, it could become a cultural touchstone shaped by romanticism from the early 1900s, a scene from the St. Paul his great-grandfather lived in.
The high-end men’s clothing store, which has been in downtown St. Paul since 2007, is a one-stop shop, selling apparel like jackets, suits, pants, sweaters and fedoras; providing services in-store like shoe shining, steam presses; and offering its very own barbershop.
Six-year customer Paul Dotson, who shops at the store for suits and casual clothes, said it’s the place to go for special service. His son-in-law recently got a suit fitted and altered in 48 hours, with what Dotson called some of the “most fantastic materials.”
The haberdashery’s decor and design nod to the culture and art of the early 1900s that Andler so greatly seeks to bring back, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
“I surround myself with the era. When things were made by hand, a wooden cabinet was made a certain way, it has personality and grace, and it has a story to tell; it has history. It has energy,” he said.
Andler’s film and theater background has made him value character building and stage design in his store.
“I think that this business is just an extension of my performance. It’s a stage set,” he said. “It’s a reflection of my inner truth.”
In 2019, Andler expanded the store — in the historic Hamm Building on St. Peter Street — to 10,000 square feet, adding space for a barista, coffees, a shotgun library and a groom’s lounge. Shortly after, he added a smoking patio, where customers can smoke cigars.
“It’s part of being human, drinking a nice cappuccino and a little dessert, hanging out with your friends and laughing and then taking in environments. Environments are so important to our storytelling,” he said.
Dotson loves going to the haberdashery to have a relaxed conversation in a nice setting, he said.
“Back when we were all working from our offices, and I was in downtown St. Paul, I would routinely go there at least once a week, just to have a coffee or a soda pop and just shoot the breeze with him,” Dotson said. “I know it’s corny, but it’s a nice place.”
That’s not where it stops for Andler. He wants the haberdashery to inspire creativity among other playwrights and authors, so he’s hoping to start hosting filmmaker’s nights or readings. He also plans to host themed shows on Friday and Saturday nights to draw crowds to St. Paul’s downtown.
“I want the store to be more than just about clothing. I want to round out the edges and make a real commitment to the community,” Andler said. “I always wanted it to be more than just a clothing store.”
Growing up as the great-grandchild of Russian-Jewish tailors and clothing retailers, who immigrated to the United States in 1917, Andler learned to appreciate the struggles of immigrants. In 1921, his great-grandfather, Heimie Andler, opened a tailor shop in St. Paul’s Lowertown district, which moved to Robert Street in 1947.
That immigration story is important to Andler because it reflects a time when Russian-Jews had to become good at what the communities they entered needed, viewing their skill sets as a “currency,” he said.
“Jewish people came to America, and they were told: ‘Here’s a couple things you can do. You can either be a tailor or a rag picker; here’s what’s acceptable,‘” he said. “They learned that clothing was currency. That was their currency. They sold clothes to make money, and they became some of the best merchants and some of the best retailers.”
Andler, who took an apprenticeship under his grandfather, always imagined what it could be like if he took the business one step further, he said.
“This is a reflection of what I thought it could be or should be. Growing up, pressing clothes, watching my grandpa, listening, being around the business, I always imagined that there would be more,” he said. “I just added the more.”
Today, Andler still has some of his grandfather’s customers come in, many of whom still exist in an older culture, where visiting your tailor becomes an experience.
That approach is something Andler wants to keep alive. He’s started making movie shorts, where he parodies older movies as an homage to that era.
“We play it out in our heads all the time, and we see it in movies all the time. That’s why making these movie shorts is so important. Because it is social culture, it’s allowing people to see more than just the clothes. It’s part of the landscape,” he said.
Andler is currently writing a script inspired by people he meets every day at the store but set in the 1940s. He plans to do casting calls in the haberdashery and then shoot the film later.
“The characters are nice, well-rounded and interesting characters because that’s what people are when they come in here,” he said.
His creativity has taken to social media, too, after he noticed supply issues during the pandemic. To combat the loss in sales, Andler found a new way to bring customers into the store.
He started a YouTube series called “The Haberdasher’s Couch,” a variety show showcasing local businesses, musicians, playwrights, comedians, actors and songwriters. The show is a salute to the vaudeville-style stage and has brought new customers into the store, Andler said.
The haberdashery’s social media presence with movie shorts and other content is a valuable extra area of connection for customer Dotson.
“I love those,” Dotson said. “I know those people, and so watching them recreate these videos is engaging as a customer/friend. And part of it is especially when he had the radio station going, an effort to reach out to the community and do something that’s not just hurrying customers in and hurrying customers out.”
This month Andler is releasing a weekly miniseries on Instagram and YouTube.
He used to hold cabaret nights, where people would come to see a show and spend the night in the city. As a merchant, this was something he greatly enjoyed.
“It had a vibration of the city. It had a synergy, it was plugged in, and people would come here for a show, come to the haberdashery for a show and then they’d go to Kincaid’s and have dinner,” he said.
Andler’s creativity extends to the clothes he designs. He’s interested in exploring gender-neutral clothes, recognizing the significant role that gender conditioning plays in the clothes one wears.
As a kid, he would buy certain women’s clothes, but dressing people in less gender-specific clothing wasn’t as accepted 20 years ago, he said.
“I love both masculine and the feminine. And sometimes I like merging those two things, and I like playing around with that,” Andler said.
What matters to him is dressing the inside, as he hopes to change lives through clothing.
“As long as we’re dressing the inside, the outside is going to look beautiful,” he said. “Changing lives through the expression of clothing is pretty cool because it’s so important to who we are every day. I don’t just want to pull my pants on; I want to pull them on with the purpose.”