These are bittersweet times on South Main Street, in Herkimer, where two loyally patronized shops are in the process of closing their doors forever. Despite the well wishes and sweet sentiments offered by their regular customers, clearance signs and slashed prices adorn racks and windows.
“Everything must go, even the furniture,” said Gina Hartman, co-owner of Rudy’s Menswear, Inc. “Except these chairs,” she added, caressing a well worn leather chair she described as her parents. She paused for a moment, lost in the briefest of memories before she looked around the shop and pointed out the sale items.
Nestled in the heart of the village, Rudy’s has been serving people throughout the valley since 1950, when Hartman’s father, Rudy Donato, first opened his shop. Back then he offered mostly tailored clothing, suits, jackets, shoes and tuxedoes for men, and it was a thriving business because that was what people wore.
Seated (from left), sisters Reina Merkelbach and Gina Hartman, take a break from working with customers. Standing, from left, are Valentina Yudchits and Dave Bunce. Yudchits will be relocating to Tri Valley Cleaners, on North Washington Street and Bunce will soon be opening up Rudy’s Express Tuxedoes, on South Main Street. Both locations are in Herkimer. (Photo by Janine Giordano)
By the 70s, two of his teenaged daughters, Gina and Reina, began working alongside him. In 1973, Reina Merkelbach opened her dress shop for women next door to her dad’s shop. By 1989, Gina Hartman and her sister bought out their dad.
“The mid-80s and 90s were the best times for business,” Hartman said, “after that we experienced a decline. People changed the way they dressed; they went more casual, even in the workforce. Men wear more casual clothes; women dress down now for work. It’s the changing times.”
As the requirement to dress up got more relaxed, and more stores opened, business slowed over the years, she explained.
Coming to the decision to close both shops after 59 years of service was a tough thing to do for the sisters, but by mid-December, 2008, they were sure it was the best thing to do.
“We’ve been doing this since we were teens,” Hartman said. “We were no longer accomplishing anything. We didn’t have the buying power. We can’t compete with the big box stores. We saw the writing on the wall and realized how things had changed in the retail industry,” Hartman added.
Reina’s shop is closed already, with just a few items left behind, that are now for sale in Rudy’s shop, including some evening gowns, some shoes, a few handbags.
“We’ve had a great response,” Hartman said. “We sent out personal letters to our customers. They’re all sad to see us leave.”
Then she smiled and said, “Many came in and said ‘let me pick up a few things because you’re not going to be here when I will need them.’ And a lot said they will miss our store, and miss us, too.”
She pointed out how they have been serving many of their patrons “for more than 20 to 25 years. They saw our kids grow up, go to college, get married. A lot of them are friends. It’s been very nice.”
While Reina and Gina will no longer be serving their patrons, all is not completely lost as Hartman says farewell to the way of life that has been hers for nearly 40 years. Her sister Theresa’s husband, Dave Bunce, will be taking over the tuxedo part of the business, and will be staying on South Main, just a down the road a bit. Rudy’s legacy will live on not only through the service offered, but in the name as well, as Bunce will be calling the endeavor “Rudy’s Express Tuxedo.” There are plans to open shop in April, in time for prom and wedding season.
Also, their trusty tailor, Valentina Yudchits, will be relocated also, to the Tri Valley Cleaners dry cleaning shop on North Washington, where she will continue to serve the area as tailor.
“They’ll both do well,” Hartman said assuredly.
While they are hoping to close the doors by April, Hartman noted that the building has not been sold and no one is forcing them out, as they own the building.
“It will be bittersweet,” she said again, glancing wistfully around at the racks of well tailored suits and finely woven sweaters. “I’m definitely going to miss this.”
Everything in the store is 50 percent off retail. The shop, located on South Main Street, in Herkimer, is opened Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They are closed Sundays.