THURSDAY, May 21 — You usually have to turn a suit or a pair of pants inside out to finish an alteration. Turning the whole store inside out is a new wrinkle, even for one of downtown Lansing’s retail anchors, 160-year-old Kositchek’s men's clothing store.
With COVID-19 restrictions on in-person business still in effect, owner David Kositchek is hoping to re-open the store soon and resume his store’s trademark personalized service safely. In the meantime, he’s offering curbside service Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 21-23, from noon to 3 p.m.
Thursday afternoon, 16-year Kositchek’s employee Carl Dorman ran some alterations out to a customer in a sleek black Mustang.
On the sidewalk, passers-by ogled a colorful buffet of shirts, suits, shoes and other spring items displayed in the 100-foot-long store window, with numbers sticking out of their necks.
“It’s old-school window shopping,” Kositchek said. “They tell us what number they’d like in the window, we do our best to find it in their size and we walk it out to their car.”
Shirts were the biggest sellers and a few suits went out the door Thursday, but customers seem to relish any chance to return to a semblance of normal. Shortly before helping the man in the black Mustang, Dorman ran some ordinary, off-the-rack socks, underwear and a belt to a longtime Kositchek’s supporter.
“Those things are easy to buy without hands-on tailoring, but people want to support local business,” Dorman said.
Longtime employee Lori Froh set up a table and chairs in the lobby, fielded calls from longtime clients and ran shoes and other items out to the curb.
“We’ll be doing it for the next two weeks until the Governor allows to open,” owner David Kositchek said.
“It gives people a chance to get out of their house, be outside and enjoy shopping without going inside.”
Kositchek has seen sport shirts, sport coats and shoes go out the door, as people shop for Father’s day, anniversaries and birthdays.
“It feels good, and it allows our team to re-engage,” Kositchek said. “We’re also earning to keep social distance from our co-workers, use masks, wash our hands and keep the store sanitized.”
“It’s nice to get back and doing something,” Dorman said. “Hopefully, we’ll be open soon, but this will get our engine moving.”
To find the closest thing to curbside sales in Kositchek’s history, you’d have to go back to David’s great-grandfather, Henry, an Austrian immigrant who started out by selling clothes from the back of a wagon.
Henry Kositchek opened his first store in 1865 at 141 S. Main St. in Eaton Rapids, and moved the store to 113 N. Washington Ave. in Lansing in 1869, a dogleg stroll from the state’s newly minted Capitol.
The store passed to David’s father, Louis (aka “Mr. K”) in 1925, and to David’s father, Richard, in 1967. David, who has worked at the store since 1962, took over in 1997.
The current pandemic and attendant shelter-at-home orders are potent retail killers, but Kostichek’s has survived nearly every major national crisis, including the Civil War, two world wars and the Great Depression. The store has been around so long it’s now on its second big pandemic. The first was the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.
The late 20th century brought its own unique trials, from the rise of the Lansing and Meridian malls to the boom in online shopping and the spread of Casual Fridays.
Through it all, the store’s personal touch has kept it going, but that’s what makes the social distance era such a unique challenge.
The in-store hair salon, with three stylists on staff, is dark as well.
“We’re getting calls all the time from people who want to get their hair cut, but we’re not going to bend on the legality,” Kositchek said. “Our hair salon will open as soon as the governor allows it.”
Despite the adversity, Kostichek said he hasn’t had to lay off any staffers, nearly all of which have been with the store for decades. A lot of regular customers are staying in touch, one way or another.
“We’re getting calls at our homes and our cell phones and getting emails,” Kositchek said. “Yesterday I got an email from a guy who needed a white shirt for a wedding that’s happening today. I went down and took care of him and got him the shirt.”
After eight weeks of hunkering down, Kositchek is grateful for any personal interaction with customers, however remote.
“The store has never been about opening the front door and waiting for people to walk in,” he said. “You have to be there when people need you.”
However, after many years of resistance, Kostichek has given his staff the go-ahead to launch a bigger online presence in the next month or so.
“This is an unprecedented time and we’re doing new things,” he said.
Dorman has been video conferencing with clients and stepping up the store’s Facebook presence.
“It’s been an interesting time,” Dorman said.
Kositchek said the web site “will give people a little window as to what we have inside,” but his heart’s clearly not in it.
“It won’t be the same as coming in the store,” he hastened to add. “Going online is not what we want to do. It’s not going to sustain us. We have to be open and we’re going to be brick and mortar.”