Modern age claims venerable clothing store

Mayer Co. Clothiers can trace its mercantile roots back 173 years, with various incarnations of the business surviving multiple wars and the Great Depression but not the modern Internet age.

C.E. Mayer first opened his store in Franklin, St. Mary Parish, in 1838.

Today, too few shoppers find their way to the modest Sherwood Forest Boulevard store where Jim and Diane Mayer offer expert tailoring and attentive customer service.

The boundless options of Internet retailing, plus a near-fatal bicycling accident, prompted the couple to close their stalwart Baton Rouge business. Their inventory liquidation sale is expected to end in December.

We talked with Jim Mayer about the closure.

How did your family come to open a store in Baton Rouge in 1985?

Diane wanted our children to be successful and have a great life. We decided to leave Helena, Ark., to raise them in a larger city and prepare them for a great career, hopefully on Wall Street.… Meeting Susan and Richard Lipsey convinced us to move to Baton Rouge. Richard and I were in business from 1983 to 1985, we opened a Mayer & Co. Clothes for men, and Diane opened the ladies’ store in 1988.

Why exactly is it tough for a family clothing business like yours to compete now?

Today, with the computer, the world is small, and the hometown merchant must compete for every sale. We offer the best in customer service, free gift-wrapping, and expert tailoring. Still, some people choose to save the 9% sales tax and shop out of state. This makes the independent merchant’s job ever more difficult.

Baton Rouge [was once] a dress-up town, where businesspeople dressed to impress their clients. Today they don’t worry about making a first impression. Baton Rouge dresses to perfection for special occasions. The women here love to dress up, but unfortunately, the business climate has become way too casual. It all started with casual Friday—what a mistake!

How did your bicycling accident contribute to your decision to close?

As a result of my accident, I have no taste in food, no smell, and my hearing has been greatly affected.… Before the accident I was in perfect health—I jogged seven miles a day and could do things I did at 30. I had to realize that I’m not indestructible and reassess my life.

Your thoughts on the clothing business?

I wish the industry could be more creative and not have to go back to fashions of past decades.

Some people choose to save the 9% sales tax and shop out of state. This makes the independent merchant’s job ever more difficult.