Local

End of an era for longtime downtown Bellingham retailer

Gary Lupo steams a shirt, his wife Barb Lupo makes going out of business signs and store manager Brianne Trafton hangs signs up while they get ready for a liquidation sale at Garys’ Mens & Womens Wear in downtown Bellingham, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. The Lupos have owned the store for nearly 40 years.
Gary Lupo steams a shirt, his wife Barb Lupo makes going out of business signs and store manager Brianne Trafton hangs signs up while they get ready for a liquidation sale at Garys’ Mens & Womens Wear in downtown Bellingham, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. The Lupos have owned the store for nearly 40 years. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

One of the landmarks in downtown Bellingham retail is having a closing business sale.

Garys’ Mens and Womens Wear at 128 W. Holly St. announced it is having its final sale starting at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and lasting until the inventory has been sold, said Gary Lupo, who started the store with his wife, Barbara, in October 1978. It’s unclear when the last day will be, but Lupo expects the sale to last through November and into mid-December.

The store is known for its high-quality clothes and customer service, something it didn’t stray from as the industry went through many changes in nearly 40 years.

They (Gary and Barbara Lupo) are my heroes. They have exceptional customer service and an eye for spectacular clothing. They are also the two nicest people on the planet.

Chris Foss, co-owner of Greenhouse

“They are my heroes,” said Chris Foss, co-owner of Greenhouse, another longtime downtown Bellingham business. “They have exceptional customer service and an eye for spectacular clothing. They are also the two nicest people on the planet.”

The couple decided to retire this year in order to do other things, including spending more time with family, which includes five grandchildren.

The store has had themed sales before and this one is no different: “It’s been fun! We’re done.”

“We really wanted to show our appreciation to the community for supporting us,” Lupo said, noting that the products for the final sale are the familiar brand names regularly seen in the store.

The store was one of the few constants as the downtown district went through quite a few changes over the years. When Garys’ debuted, there were eight other men’s clothing stores in the area. At the time the Lupos saw an opportunity in offering high-quality clothes to men in their 20s and 30s. Along with the clothing, the couple felt creating strong relationships with customers was important to survive in a competitive market.

The arrival of Bellis Fair mall in the 1980s resulted in many retailers leaving the downtown core. The Lupos decided to stay downtown. As a business focused on customer service, they felt they could survive as a standalone business. They did make a few adjustments, including a store remodeling and the addition of women’s clothing.

They also had to adjust to changes in clothing styles, which ranged from the look popularized by the1980s television show “Miami Vice” to today’s fashions.

“Whatever the trend was, we adapted it to what Pacific Northwest customers wanted,” Barbara Lupo said.

The busiest sales years for the store were 2006 and 2007, before the global financial meltdown. As the economy started to recover, local retailers had another strong competitor as the online market continued to grow. Gary said the couple recognize that not everyone wants the traditional service that comes with clothing purchases, but they also found a strong base of shoppers who do want it.

“Every week we see a customer that’s from outside Whatcom County who came back to shop at the store,” he said, noting many of those customers are former residents or people who previously visited Bellingham and found the store. “For those who really enjoy shopping for clothes, when they stumble into a boutique that takes care of you, they come back.”

It’s the relationships both Gary and Barbara said they will miss the most once the store closes. Gary, a big University of Washington fan, said he has enjoyed people coming in just to talk sports. They may or may not be dropping by to buy something, but he knew they would when it was time.

Barbara said she also will miss the fashion shows they’ve put on for the past 14 years. Over the years the shows raised more than $50,000 for a variety of local nonprofit organizations. She also admits they are both workaholics when it comes to the store, so retirement may take some getting used to.

“It will be an adjustment for me, but it is also an opportunity to transition into something else,” she said.

During the final sale, store hours will be 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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