08 November 2011

Educated Consumers to Become Orphans

Syms, one of my favorite local retailers and, for my money, one of the most ur-New York institutions around, has broken my heart by filing for bankruptcy protection. It will close all 46 of their stores, including the Filene's Basement chain branches it acquired in 2009 for $62.5 million. I didn't think that acquisition was a good move at the time. I know nothing about business, but Syms never struck me as the expansionist type. I just felt they should run their Syms stores and leave it at that.

Syms was founded in 1959 by a fella with the inimitable name of Sy Syms (born Sy Merinksy). The stores were discount outlets, but retained a kind of classy patina. The merchandise was of fairly high quality, and the salesmen were "educators" who didn't work on commission, and thus didn't push. Sy coined the chain unusually wise slogan, "An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer." What other chain do you know that promotes the idea of buyer intelligence?

Before I ever shopped at Syms, I was familiar with the stores. The company sponsored the old movies Channel 13 aired on Saturday nights. I grew fond of the brief advertising spot that preceded the films, in which the name Syms would be meticulously formed by hundreds of buttons. Then Sy would appear on the screen and utter the company's slogan. Later, his daughter Marcy took his place in the spots.

Syms won me over as a customer one day in the 1990s when I went there looking for a suit. I was thumbing through the gray and navy blue items on the rack when an "educator" approached me with a dark green number by a French maker. I had never occurred to me to wear a green suit, but I tried it on. It was perfectly suited to my build and coloring. To this day, it's my favorite suit I've ever owned. Since then, I've shopped there regularly. Recently, I began buying my son's clothes there. The experience has always been a civilized one. And I was always happily perplexed by the fact that there were three signs saying "Syms" outside the Rector Street store, the bottom one slightly bigger than the top two. It was also one of the only reasons I ever journeyed down to the financial district. 

Where will I get my suits now?


will hauff said...

When I was a young kid in Toronto, Sy Syms used to advertise on the Buffalo, New York Station Channel 7. I grew up hearing about the "educated consumer". I think late at night he sponsored the B movies that distorted my outlook on life.

Michael Gersh said...

I knew the guy, and his name is not Sims. He legally changed his name to Sy Merns, but he used the pseudonym Sy Sims in the ads and promotions, so his family could remain out of the spotlight. Nice family from Westchester. Last time I saw them was about twenty years ago.