Last Friday, Scott Shapiro wore a necktie — an ivory Italo Ferretti with blue dots — for the first time in more than two months.
“I almost forgot how to tie it,” he said. “It took me several times to get it right.”
This is noteworthy because Shapiro owns Syd Jerome, the upscale Loop menswear institution. Like many Chicagoans, Shapiro is eager to get back to his old life, which for him means standing at the front of the store, impeccably dressed, greeting customers, helping them navigate Syd Jerome’s fifth and fanciest location, a space the store moved into last year on Clark Street just north of Madison.
That slow climb back began Friday. That’s what the sign said: “Re-Opening May 29.” The clerks were nattily attired, alert and ready. Carlos Nava went over the windows one last time, wiping every smudge. It seemed a fresh start and not a mere lull between Act One, the medical crisis and economic disaster of COVID-19, and Act Two: all that, plus widespread, ongoing violence following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Syd Jerome began in 1958 when Scott’s father, Sidney Shapiro, who by age 11 was steering customers into discount suit joints on Maxwell Street, opened a store of his own, less than a block away.
Now, during the pandemic, through April and May, Shapiro came into the shuttered store every day. Keeping up with the paperwork of being closed was itself a full time job.
“I’ve got close to 200 different vendors I deal with,” he said. “Have to contact them and tell them I’m not receiving goods any more.”
When I asked about his tie, he pointed out that Italo Ferretti now makes $85 silk masks.
“We don’t know, until they come up with a cure, if this is the new normal,” said Shapiro.
The masks have washable cotton insets.
“They say that the combination of silk and cotton are the best: the silk filters out the microstatic molecules and the cotton gets everything else,” he said, an explanation that might reflect more salesmanship than science. “We’ve sold 100 of these. Bob Clifford bought 20 of them to give out.”
Mark Karno, a personal injury attorney, came by to pick up a few.
“They’re stylish and useful,” said Karno, on the board of governors of the Illinois State Bar Association. The legal profession is the last bulwark against our suitless, tieless, some would say styleless, future.
“Lawyers still wear suits,” said Karno.
The good ones, anyway. No lawyer wants to blow a multi-million case by neglecting appearances. Lawyers in a hurry will tell Shapiro, “You know my taste, you pick” among suits that cost $2,800 apiece.
“They’re not your average men’s store,” said Clifford, a noted personal injury attorney. “I wear a lot of suits. I’m in court all the time. It’s important to look proper and successful.”
In April and May, Syd Jerome sold $200,000 in gift cards.
“They’re just good people, good, rock solid, anchored people, and folks want to support them,” said Clifford. “Those cards were all about giving them cash flow.”
Syd Jerome was having a tough year before looting began in Chicago Saturday. Even before COVID-19. It was robbed twice: The first time, Shapiro was there, and the 5’4, 135-pound shop owner grappled with the much larger robber. They both fell through a glass display case, requiring 15 stitches in Shapiro’s head, 15 in his back and causing a broken finger that’s still giving him trouble. His customers rallied then, too.
“When somebody attacks us, it’s an affront to all our customers,” said Shapiro. “Customers came in and said, ‘I felt I had to buy something regular price just to support you.’ “
Then Saturday night, rioters smashed a window that Carlos Nava had so carefully cleaned the day before.
Syd Jerome supports 17 employees — clerks, tailors, plus all the businesses that supply them. We toured the new store — the walls in the dressing room are blue pinstripe fabric.
“An ode to my father,” said Shapiro. “My father loved blue pinstripe suits.”
Saturday, a security guard kept looters at bay until Shapiro arrived, toting a gun, and together they warded them off.
“A group converged on me,” said Shapiro. “I yelled at them, ‘This is my store!’ It was a harrowing experience.”
Now Syd Jerome is back to business.
“We’re open today,” he said. “I’m not letting this deter us.”