Lexington Men’s Retail Landmark Graves Cox & Company to Close After 126 Years in Business

May 20, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The decision to retire has prompted Leonard Cox, owner of Graves Cox & Company to close the downtown men’s clothing store that has been a familiar local name since 1888.

“The clothing business is a young man’s game and getting more so. We’re doing the right thing,” said Cox, whose grandfather co-founded the business in 1888 after attending the University of Michigan Law School. “It’s time to slow down, enjoy time with my wife and see my children.”

Cox said he has reached an agreement with two Georgia investors who will open another men’s clothing store at the same location in August. He is uncertain if the Graves Cox name will continue.

The store’s inventory sale opens to the public on Thursday, May 22. Graves Cox, located at 325 W. Main St., will be open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, and 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday during the sale.

Cox joined the family business in 1965 after graduating from the University of Virginia and worked with his father and Joe Graves, grandson of the co-founder. The company went through a number of changes, including opening a mall store in 1967. It was acquired in 1969 by Genesco, a Nashville retailer, that later sold the company to employees. Cox purchased the company in 1999 and reopened the business in 2004 at its current location.

Cox noted the men’s clothing industry has changed dramatically over the years as the workplace has shifted from business attire to casual wear. As a result, many top-line clothing makers have fallen by the wayside. Chain retailers and internet sales have also pressured independent clothing stores.

“People don’t wear suits every day. Consequently, they don’t have a wardrobe of five or six suits or sports coats. Independent stores have got to change with the times. Young people are coming into the industry and it’s going to be done a new way. That’s healthy for the industry,” said Cox, whose interests include serving as the kicking coach at Henry Clay High School for 12 years. “Graves Cox is a great name. The longevity, reputation for honesty and integrity factor are important, but if you don’t have what people want they don’t care about the history.”

He said one constant is the “big need for that one-on-one knowledge” that an experienced retailer brings to the retail floor.

“It’s like going to a doctor you’ve known for years and you feel comfortable with. I’m like a clothes doctor. You may not want to hear what I’m going to tell you sometimes, but you know I’m going to tell you the truth and I’m going to tell you what you need to hear,” he added. “It’s time to graciously bow out, and let younger people learn and re-invigorate the retail industry — an industry that needs new blood! I will be a coach again; helping others to improve and learn this challenging ‘retail game.'”

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Four Squires, Antioch Clothier Since 1972, to Quit Business, Sell Entire Inventory

May 10, 2014

ANTIOCH, Ill. – The decision to retire has prompted the co-owners of Four Squires, a men’s and women’s clothier that has been a local retail mainstay for many years, to announce a quitting business sale.

“The one thing I love about this business more than anything else is working with people. If someone asked what am I going to miss the most — it’s the relationships,” said Lance Hansen, who co-owns the store with his wife, Sue. “Knowing the moms and dads, the kids and even the grandkids, you get to know them as a family. I’m sure there are other businesses where that happens, but that’s the thing I’ll miss the most.”

The store’s inventory sale opens to the public on Thursday, May 15. Four Squires, located at 414 Lake St., will be open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday during the sale.

While the timelines of the Antioch store and Hansen’s career in retail clothing coincide, the two didn’t connect until 2007. The store was part of the Four Squires chain that included at least eight stores in Illinois.

Hansen started his career as a buyer for the Four Squires chain in the early 1970s and he and his wife purchased its DeKalb store in 1977. “The fashions I’ve seen start with the Nehru jacket, going to leisure suits right through to today’s relaxed style. The fashion changes have been tremendous with some of the short-lived things, but that’s been the fun of it,” he said.

The Hansens closed the DeKalb, Ill., store in 2002 and moved to the Antioch area, where they worked at the local store. They later purchased the store. “The owner and I had been partners in the Four Squires buying group. when he decided to retire, he closed the store and we re-opened it in April 2007,” Hansen explained.

He praised the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, the support and camaraderie of other local businesses and called the community “a terrific place to have a business.”

“Everybody loves coming to this town because it’s a quaint, neat little city with great restaurants and a nice mix of retail. We are one of the last survivors of independent clothing stores. More people come into this store and say, ‘I remember when I had stores like this where I grew up’ and that’s why it hurts me to leave,” Hansen said. “I hate to leave them. I don’t want to say I’m abandoning them but I feel I am.”

He reserved his highest praise for his wife, Sue, and two employees, Jan Kurath and Jessica Merrill. Sue Hansen had not had retail responsibilities until the 2007 purchase. She served as Four Squires’ women’s wear buyer and merchandiser.

“I’ve been really blessed with terrific employees,” Hansen said. “When you think of a business and how it survives, it’s not just the owner. It’s the people who work there who make it successful.”

Hansen expects his next challenge finding a niche where he can continue to be involved with people. “I will find something,” he smiled.

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Woolson Special Report for School Transportation News Explores Question of School Bus Crossing Gate Mandate

May 3, 2014

Why doesn’t the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandate crossing gates at the front of school buses when they require stop arms on the side of these vehicles? Learn why in Eric Woolson’s special report for School Transportation News, which can be seen in this month’s digital edition by clicking on “To Mandate or Not?