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Hoffman Clothiers closing after 90 years in Hagerstown

October 16, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Forty-four years of inseams, neckties and dress shirts is winding down for Jim Baker, who's closing Hoffman Clothiers, a downtown Hagerstown anchor.

"Because I'm 65 and I've got grandkids and I want to watch them grow up," Baker said Friday of his reasons for closing after one more day of helping men look dapper.

The store has been at 15 N. Potomac St. since 1919, when C.K. Hoffman opened it. It passed to C.K.'s son, George, then to George Hoffman's son-in-law, Paul Hoffman.

In 1984, after 19 years with DeVono's Men's Wear in Hagerstown, Jim Baker bought Hoffman Clothiers.

The goal now is to sell the remaining inventory. Baker said he'd like to close by mid-December.

Longtime customer and friend Syd Machat of Keedysville didn't know where'd he shop next.

He browsed there Friday, letting his wife, Joy, a master gardener with an eye for color, make the important shopping decisions.

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Syd Machat said he considers Hoffman Clothiers an expert specialty shop in the same way he's loyal to a hatter in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

"The wives will sorely miss it," Joy Machat added.

Hoffman Clothiers is where they turn for Father's Day and other gift-giving occasions.

Sue Baker, also 65, empathizes with her husband. Not long ago, she made the same leap, ending 29 years of full-time teaching.

"I retired 2 1/2 years ago," she said. "I was an elementary teacher. For the first six months, I said I didn't know how to define myself."

Now, she'll have to think of her husband in a new way.

"I've only known him as a haberdasher, all 43 years we've been married," she said.

Asked how long he'll take to adjust to retirement, Jim Baker said, "Twenty minutes," and laughed. "Maybe 10."

Sue Baker foresees more time for the couple with their six grandchildren, plus the one on the way. They'll see relatives in Atlanta.

"I'm looking forward to having weekends free together, which we never have," she said. "That'll be the best part."

Jim Baker wants to spend time with nursing home residents who don't get visitors, as an ambassador or minister of sorts.

"I just want to help people that need help," he said.

For the last quarter century at Hoffman Clothiers, that's meant paying attention as men figure out their wardrobes.

William M. Breichner, a former city water superintendent and current councilman, knew Baker's grandfather and father, both of whom worked on city water business.

Breichner and his wife, Gann, stopped at the shop Friday. He said he usually intends to look around and say hello, but "every time I come in here, he sells me something."

Breichner tried on pants Friday. Baker adjusted the cuffs. They laughed at each other's jokes.

The store's closing ends a deep working relationship between Jim Baker and Carl Foreman, a right-hand man at Baker's side since 1978 at DeVono's.

"I hate it," Foreman said. "I don't want to go anywhere."

Baker likened Foreman to Radar O'Reilly, the "M*A*S*H" character who always knew what the commander needed before he asked.

Some customers like Baker's Type A attention, and others prefer Foreman's easygoing approach, Baker said.

This week, customers have come in and called, sharing their melancholy and favorite memories.

"They feel bad and we feel bad," Foreman said. "Some of them have sobbed a bit."

Sue Baker said customers became friends. They watched the couple's grandchildren grow up through photos displayed around the shop.

As the Breichners left with their purchases -- a coat and pants for him, two Marushka prints for her -- Gann Breichner said, "It's nice to go in a place ... and be that comfortable."

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