WEST DES MOINES – The impending end of an internationally iconic clothing brand is leading to the closing of a local retail store, its owner said today.
Blue Willi’s, the nearly six-year-old West Glen Town Center store that bears the same name as the clothing label, will sell its entire inventory and close its doors as the 60-year-old Danish company that produces the women’s and men’s clothing sold in at least 27 countries goes out of business.
The store’s inventory sale opens to the public next Thursday. Blue Willi’s, 5515 Mills Civic Parkway, will be open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Sunday during the sale.
“The economy in Europe is as tough as the economy here in the United States right now and that’s really unfortunate because Blue Willi’s is a phenomenal company with an incredible history,” said Tom Halsch, who co-owns the store with his wife Patti. “It’s a select group of companies that last 60 years and Blue Willi’s was in that group because the product is just that unique.”
Halsch has been a manufacturer’s representative for 35 years and has represented the Blue Willi’s representative in the Midwest for 18 years. As the brand’s U.S. following grew, the company began to open retail outlets, including one in the Des Moines market. When the owner of that store decided to close in December 2006, the Halsches stepped in.
“The manager still wanted to run it and the brand was still popular so that’s when I became a retail store owner,” Halsch said.
Halsch notes that unlike most other quitting business sales, this time the product itself will be gone for good. “The selection is limited and what’s in the store is what you can buy. They’re not making any more,” he said.
Blue Willi’s built its following by creating clothing with long-strand cotton in which special enzymes were used to seal the fibers and every inch of the materials were waxed before they were woven into garments. The garments are washed and dried several times during the assembly process, too, to enhance their strength and comfort.
“The clothes are very durable. We’ll have a women come into the store wearing a 12-year-old sweater and it almost looks like it just came off the rack,” he said.
The Halsches have traveled to Denmark and met with the company’s owners and designers. He met the company founder, Jens Marius Willi Thomassen, a number of times over the years.
Blue Willi’s remained a family business until 2009 when it was sold.
“On visits to the factory, it was always interesting to watch the computer guy design the garments because women who knit would say, ‘You really shouldn’t be able to do that. It would take seven different kinds of needles to complete that.’ That’s why the people who buy Blue Willi’s really appreciate it and come back. They really like the quality of it.”
He added, “Everyone at Blue Willi’s was so nice. When we’d go over there, the entire factory would stand outside waving goodbye until our bus was out of sight. They’d host us for dinner at their house. It’s like part of your family is dying.