FARGO – Straus Clothing, a name synonymous with high-quality menswear in North Dakota for more than 135 years, is hanging it up.
The family-owned company, which once had stores across North Dakota, is closing its last remaining store. It’s holding a going-out-of-business sale that starts Thursday morning at the business located at 3223 13th Ave. S., Fargo.
Brothers John and Rick Stern, fourth-generation owners of Straus Clothing, were busy Friday helping employees get the store ready for the big sale, but they took a few minutes to reflect on the momentous step they were about to take.
"It was more agonizing when we started talking about it than it is now; now it's almost anticlimactic," John Stern said, adding: "The big stress was trying to keep it confidential."
The business closed early Friday afternoon and won't reopen again until Thursday morning. After that, the store won’t close its doors for good until the last of the inventory is gone.
So, what's it like to say goodbye to a business your grandfather and father turned into a household name?
"It's bittersweet," said Rick Stern, who, like his brother, is in his mid-60s and ready to retire after more than 40 years on the retail floor, which the brothers will tell you is a physically tough line of work.
Retail, John Stern said, "Is not easy. You're on you're feet. Long hours."
Rick Stern agreed.
"I don't know how we could do this in three or four years," he said.
A hallmark of the Straus experience is customer service and the Sterns said they are confident store staff will find employment elsewhere, if that is what they want.
"We've got really, really good people. Very, very loyal,” John Stern said. Many have been with the store for decades.
"Our people will be fine, because they're quality people. They can go anywhere," he added.
While the decision to close the store was a difficult one, the brothers say it is one their late father, Ed Stern, would likely smile on.
"He said, 'Don't work as hard as I did, don't hang on,’ " John Stern said, recalling advice their father once shared with them.
Another factor in the decision to close, they said, was that no one in the family was interested in taking over the store.
It would be difficult to overstate the impact the Stern family has had on the state of North Dakota and the city of Fargo.
It all started when Adolph Sternberg opened a clothing store in Sanborn, N.D., in 1879, a store that later moved to Valley City.
In 1897, a cousin, M.G. Straus, opened a store in Casselton and a few years later Straus purchased the Valley City clothing store from his cousin's estate and hired his nephew, Herman Stern to run it, which he did for seven decades.
In 1932, Herman's son, Ed, began working as a salesman for the family store in Valley City.
Ed Stern would eventually run the Straus Clothing store that opened in the late 1930s in downtown Fargo.
That store moved several times until in the late 1950s it settled in at 102 Broadway, which today is home to Halberstadt's on Broadway, also a men's clothing store.
The Straus store at 102 Broadway was destroyed by fire in 1963 and rebuilt, reopening again in 1964.
A second Fargo Straus location opened in the West Acres mall in 1972.
In 1997, the downtown and West Acres stores were consolidated into one store on 13th Avenue South, the current and final location of Straus Clothing.
In addition to cities already mentioned, Straus Clothing store locations in North Dakota included LaMoure, Carrington, Grand Forks, Jamestown and Devils Lake.
Legacy of involvement
Over the years, Stern family members have played major roles in their communities.
Herman Stern founded the Greater North Dakota Association, now the Greater North Dakota Chamber, and he organized efforts to build a home for the North Dakota Winter Show, a crop and livestock expo that first opened in Valley City in the late 1930s.
Stern, who died in 1980 at age 92, was also a leader in Boy Scouts – a tradition his family continues to this day – and he was awarded the organization's Silver Buffalo award for distinguished service to youths. He was also hailed as a hero for his efforts to save the lives of relatives, friends and others from the Holocaust during World War II.
Last year, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple posthumously awarded Herman Stern the Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest honor.
Ed Stern, who died in 2009 at age 94, founded what is now the FM Area Foundation and served as president of the school board, led the Fargo Chamber of Commerce, and was a Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra board member and violinist.
If anyone thinks the closing of the last Straus Clothing store will alter the Stern family tradition of giving back, they have another thing coming, according to brothers Rick and John.
"That won't stop, because we're not leaving,” John Stern said. “We'll still be very much involved."
Timeline of Straus Clothing
1879 – Adolph Sternberg opened store in Sanborn, N.D.
1882 – Moved store to Valley City, N.D.
1897 – M.G. Straus opened store in Casselton, N.D.
1907 – Straus bought Valley City store from his cousin’s estate. His nephew Herman Stern ran the store.
1936 -- Purchased Esquire Shop in Fargo, where Herman’s son Ed Stern started in management. Moved to larger site in 1941, and expanded in 1950.
1955 – Purchased Havig store in Grand Forks and opened in that location.
1957 -- Bought Globe Clothing in Fargo and moved into its location with a new store.
1963 -- Fire destroyed Fargo store. Moved back into same location in 1964.
1966 – Opened a second store in Grand Forks at South Forks Shopping Center.
1970 – Purchased Beck’s in Jamestown, N.D.
1972 – Opened second Fargo location at West Acres mall. Ed’s sons, John and Rick Stern, join management.
1978 – Moved downtown store in Grand Forks to Columbia Mall.
1996 – First Straus website started.
1997 – Consolidated Fargo stores into one location on 13th Avenue South.
1998 – Recognized as oldest family-owned retail business in North Dakota.
2004 – Opened contemporary shop called aka in downtown Fargo.
2010 – Consolidated aka into Straus.