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Created on: 02/16/13 06:48 AM Views: 3634 Replies: 6
Posted Saturday, February 16, 2013 06:48 AM

By Susan Salisbury

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


After 100 years of selling classic menswear on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, J.C. Harris Co. is closing.

“Small little businesses like ours, we are a dying breed,” said Robert Harris, 70, who retired a couple of years ago, but still comes into the store at 333 Clematis for a few hours a day. “We had a good following for 100 years.”

With relentless competition from discount retailers, a downtown that’s become filled with more restaurants and bars and fewer retailers, and an uncertain economy that has left customers holding tightly to their dollars, the Harris family decided the time had come.

Harris’ son Bob Harris, 37, who runs the store with his wife Sarah Harris and brother Billy Harris, said Friday, “It’s been a struggle the last couple of years. We wanted to make it to 100 years.”

On March 1 a liquidation sale will begin at the store packed with its signature merchandise: Bass Weejuns and Sebago Docksiders, Gant and Sero brand Oxfordcloth button-down collar shirts, navy blazers, Sportif shorts and more. The popular $130 Corbin brand slacks, made by the Hardwick Co. in Cleveland, Tenn., are one of the few items still made in the United States.

The doors will close when all the mechandise is gone, the Harrises said.

The “J.C. Harris, West Palm Beach, Fla.,” white logo tag with a palm tree is sewn into almost every item except the shorts and Guy Harvey t-shirts, said Billy Harris, 39.

Robert Harris’ grandfather James Calvin Harris, opened a store on Datura Street called Harris & Epps with a partner around 1903. That was dissolved and in 1913 Harris moved the business to Dixie Highway and Clematis.

Back then people pulled up in a horse and buggy, and parking meters did not exist.

“It was more of a kind of mercantile place. I noticed in an older picture, there were suitcases. It was a dry goods store,” Robert Harris said.

The downtown has had its up and downs, but the Harrises have been steadfast, well-respected merchants, with only family members working there except for a rare part-timer. Until a decade or so ago, five Harris men served customers.

On Friday, other Clematis Street merchants said they were surprised to hear about the closing of what is said to be the oldest freestanding men’s store in Florida.

“I’m shocked, and I am saddened,” said Susan Sperber Allen, co-owner of Michael’s Jewelers, in business on Clematis for 60 years. “People come downtown to go J.C. Harris and Michael’s, and they go to Myer’s if they have a need. I have friends who come here from Palm Beach Gardens because of that perfect service.”

At Myer’s Luggage, in business for 89 years, saleswoman Ellen Sells said she’s sad to see J.C. Harris go. She’s been shopping there since the 1960s and purchased Christmas gifts there in December.

The peak of retailing downtown was from 1960 to 1967. Then the Palm Beach Mall opened and cut the downtown retailers’ business in half. It bounced back some, but things have not been the same since. A lack of free parking has continued to plague downtown, although some merchants provide free parking stamps, the Harrises said.

“When I started working here in 1970s, there were four men’s stores — Cy’s, Goldsmith’s, Walton’s and J.C. Harris,” Robert Harris said.

Anthony’s, Belk, Penney’s and Burdine’s also sold men’s clothing downtown years ago. Downtown lacks a retail anchor now, and stores such as Gap and Banana Republic closed after CityPlace’s opening in 2000.

J.C. Harris has loyal customers who are amazed at the family members’ ability to recall their sizes and previous purchases. There’s never been a charge for tailoring, although that won’t be offered during the liquidation.

Louis Williams, a West Palm Beach attorney, said Friday, “I have shopped there for 34 years. It was convenient. They knew me. They knew all my sizes, whether it was shirt, shoes or suit.

“Years ago, I went in to buy a red tie and Robert said to me. ‘I am not selling you that. You have too many red ties.’ It is a wonderful place. They are wonderful people,” Williams said.

Consumers have been accustomed to bargains offered at stores from Macy’s to Marshall’s to outlet malls and more, whether it’s a shirt for $5 or a buy one, get one free suit.

The Harrises say they can’t make a profit if they become discounters, but at the same time, they say it’s difficult to compete with stores offering sales of up to 80 percent off.

“People are conditioned to buying something if it’s a bargain,” Robert Harris said, lamenting lower of quality of much of the clothing manufactured today. “It’s really not.”


Posted Sunday, February 24, 2013 05:32 PM

I remember downtown fondly.  My favorite of course was Burdines.  Saturday was a big shopping day downtown.  I would go and spend the day.  Such fond memories. 

Class of 1968

Edited 03/20/13 06:15 PM
Posted Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:35 AM

I enjoyed going into Harris',back in the day he was the Wilson tennis racket dealer in the area and i bought several rackets from there as well as clothing,,,life must go on.

Posted Saturday, May 11, 2013 12:51 AM

Wow, end of an era: my first madras short and my first Weejuns. I bet a lot of people could say that. Did they rent prom tuxes there too? That rings a bell, although it may have been another shop on Clematis. Any help on that one?


Posted Saturday, January 11, 2014 12:38 PM

Maybe Cy's Men's Shop. It was just down the street from JC Harris near the Florida Theatre.

Posted Wednesday, December 3, 2014 11:04 PM

Hi Sarah! It's been a while... I often think of this little often overlooked forum, and you of course... You're looking beautiful as always... I have located Dave Rubinson on facebook... He's fine and happy with his lot. Lives in Ft Lauderdale area as always.. Told me on facebook his "youngest" daughter was getting married in early November... I think she's 20.. God his youngest. I haven't even seen the older one yet. Haven't seen Dave since the 10th reunion in 1988 out at the PGA... Don't recall if you were there. Maybe not. I reconnected with him on facebook one year ago... I'm on facebook as Rob Jordan... You'll find Dave there as well.

Burdine's was a real department store's department store.. They had a bigger one in Miami as I once heard or saw.. After we graduated in June '68, and isnt it nice to be with a group of people your so 100% comfy with, where you can admit it? I worked at Burdine's during their July-August inventory... Luckily for me it was in the record department... A 2 week summer job my dad found for me thru his connections... I think by then I had my Florida DL too, LOL.. Hard won in Mr Sauers Shop Class Drivers Ed class that spring of '68.. lol What fun that was hand counting LPs by new rock bands... The following summer of '69, I returned and did it again... I recall seeing new LPs by Johnny Winter and others I was getting into... In the back break and storage room was a cassette tape recorder with new Ampex cassette tapes which were the first time I had seen one.. The first cassette players came out around 1967 along with the cassette tapes. But 8 Tracks were still the main way to hear music on a tape... Until around the early-mid 70s.

I think Burdine's finally went under in the early-mid 70s due to the Palm Beach Mall completely stealing all of the old downtown shoppers. And downtown WPB also went downhill. I recall living down there in or near downhtown WPB in the early-mid 70s before my departure for New York in '75. I shared an apartment on North Olive, in the summer of '72 with a friend, a year younger, from PBJC (now Palm Beach State College)... Cant recall this buildings name (they had names) but it was 3 storeys and was white Spanish stucco. Northwood was just a few blocks south... But you could walk to downtown from there, maybe.. It was getting decrepid... There was an eiree deadness to it after dark.

There was also an upstairs nightclub, located on North (?) Dixie, around 1972, with rock acts from NYC and a general early 70s NYC rock club feel to it.. You had to walk up 2 flights to get to it.. No cover charge and a 2 drink minimum, as I think was the usual door policy. There were tables, a great jukebox playing Roling Stones hits and a back room with red lighting and plastic air chairs... Spacey. This kind of 70s look was revived in the late 1980s in London dance clubs during the Rave DJ scene period... House music, which originated in Washington DC as Go Go and as House in Detroit exported to London around 1988. But dowtown WPB suffered for many years... Right up to the 90s. High crime area and urban neglect.

I think after the 2000 Florida election farce, which put the spotlight on WPB, the elected City Council, with a mayor at the head... decided to do massive urban renewal... And by mid-late 2000s I would go on Google Earth and WPB was completely new... Almost beyond my or your recognition... Check it out on Google Earth Street View and be amazed. There's night life and, according to one website... With a tag, "walking around at night" night life with busy cafesm restaurants, and the usual bars... I am still dedicated to be in Europe, but often long for a nostalic trip home and "walk around" at night, and drop into a club or bar, order a beer and start a conversation with a young thing, (OK maybe in her 30s) and wait for the big question, from her longing eyes... You new around here in town? Nope. But, yep, but I come from thousands of miles away from her. Oh, where you from, then? You're standing on it.

Yeah, good old JC HARRIS... I remember it well. I bought my navy blue blazer there, some shirts and a tie, and my Bostonians, (the alternative to Bass Weejuns, oh yeah) in, hmmm for Christmas 1965, or 1966, and I'm wearing it in my (our) Class of '68 photo. BTW, I read online 2 years ago, the Palm Beach Mall was being mostly torn down and replaced with a new outdoor style plaza shopping thing... I guesss after 45 years it had become outdated, imagine that, they couldn't just "upgrade it". And what's tragic about it is, when it opened in 1967, it was one of the most modern malls in the country... Not the first, but the best and begun by the SF based DeBartello family who owned the SF 49ers.... And, in fact, I've read online, shopping malls all over America have been closing due to shopping websites and peoples changing buying habits with the new online generation... Nice bit of revenge for Burdine's, that big old furniture store nearby whose name escapes me, and JC HARRIS.

Rob Jordan 1968

Posted Wednesday, December 3, 2014 11:28 PM

Cy's yes.. Florida Theater yes... All a long time gone... The new generation under 30 probably wouldn't know what we were talking about... The Florida was on the corner of Clematis, I think... Had some great movie nights there... 2001 a space odyssey in 1968. And THX 138 in 1971 among others thru the earlier years... Even the old Municpal Library, I loved, is gone... In fact, all of downtown WPB and surrounding streets have changed.. There's now a "City Place" and a hideous looking new Municipal Building which houses the local government... In a style of architecture known as Mediterranean Greek or something monstrous like that... During the 2000 Florida election fiasco with Butterfly Ballots and hanging Chads I read what others thought of WPB.

BTW, I was scrolling thru the PBJC archives on the Internet Archives last year, looking for some art work I did for The old Beachcomber in the early 70s, and there was an article about the Fall 1974 elections... I was still out there finishing up my overdue AA degree and guess who was running the student elections? Patty LaPorte, the same Supervisor of Elections for PB County responsible for the 2000 Election Butterfly Ballot, which one can argie cost Al Gore the state and thus the election, and us, probably 2 costly wars, whose fallout is still raining down on us. She was "confident" the '74 PBJC elections would go smoothly... During the Recount a reporter from LA described downtown WPB has "LA on steroids".. Yes, that's what it was like alright. I havent seen the TV movie Recount yet, but I think Lapore is portrayed in it... Imagine that, getting someone to be you in a TV movie.. LaPorte did not reply to my Facebook Friend Request... Hmmm. But I read, she's still involved with politics... Lord help us..

Rob Jordan 1968

Edited 12/03/14 11:33 PM