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Tom Withers, owner of Josephson's Men's Clothing Store since 1992, conducts business Tuesday afternoon. Josephson's moved to its current location in 1901. (Republican Eagle photos by John R. Russett)

Josephson's thrives on solid foundation

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In the early 1920s a grease fire in a bakery near Josephson’s Men’s Clothing Store caused heat damage to some of the wooden cabinets behind the cash register. The cabinets cracked and buckled in different places, leaving the mark of the fire on the store.

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Close to 90 years later those cabinets are still in place behind the register at Josephson’s.

Tom Withers, who bought the store in 1992 from Tom Josephson – grandson of store founder Alfred Josephson – said he didn’t even consider repairing the cabinets when he took over.

“It’s part of the history and the charm of the store,” Withers said. “Tom Josephson told me the best mistake he ever made was in the ‘60s when everybody went to glass and chrome (cases) he couldn’t afford it.”

Josephson’s was opened on Jan. 26, 1878, by Alfred Josephson and Emil Olund and moved into its current location in May of 1901.

When Withers purchased the business from Tom Josephson in 1992, it ended 114 years of family ownership.

While much has changed in the ensuing years, Withers said the core of the business remains the same.

“Honesty is the Josephsons’ policy and that’s what mine has been ever since I started selling clothes,” he said, adding honesty is what earns customers’ respect.

Customer service and pricing merchandise correctly the first time are two other major components that have helped carry this business through 136 years of service.

Withers said he only has two sales a year to move the summer and winter merchandise when the seasons change. He doesn’t price his merchandise to have the room to mark it down for multiple sales.

While integrity has carried the business since its inception, a lot of other things have changed in the 22 years since Withers has taken over. The Red Wing native said he can remember a time when seven men’s clothing stores were in the area. Josephson’s is currently the only independent men’s-only retailer in Goodhue County, he said.

The trend is not exclusive to the area, he added. When he bought the business approximately 9,600 independent men’s clothing stores were scattered across the country and now there are less than 5,600, Withers said.

Aside from a general decrease in the number of independent men’s stores, Withers said the culture of work attire has changed as well.

“Casual Friday is now every day,” he said. When he took over Withers said he carried close to 700 suits and now he has anywhere from 450 to 500. He has worked, however, to increase the casual clothing options in his store and is considering bringing jeans into the mix.

“(The business) is always changing,” Withers said. “You just try to stay as up to date as you can.”

Withers, who has been in the clothing business on and off for close to 40 years, said he loves his work because he loves helping people.

“I love waking up every morning and coming to work,” he said. “The only thing I don’t know how to sell is shoes.”

Retail Business of the Year

Josephson’s Men’s Clothing Store won the 2013 Retail Business of the Year at the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and awards night last month.

Withers said the recognition means a lot coming from this community and he is grateful to the chamber and to local residents for shopping at Josephson’s and keeping the store a viable part of downtown Red Wing.

“It’s an honor because the competition was stiff,” he said. “The best advertising a retailer can have is word of mouth.”

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