How does a tailor and former store owner make it to age 90, still actively involved in the business (not to mention actively involved in three days of partying to celebrate his 90 years)? To find out, we asked Red Nelson personally.
“My father Victor Nelson founded the business (Nelson’s Clothing in Macomb, Illinois) in 1936. I worked there in high school, then joined the Marines in 1942. I ended up in the South Pacific and was part of the landing in Okinawa. Discharged in 1945, I got home and immediately went to work at the store because my father was ill. (No wonder he got sick, worrying about two sons fighting overseas!) Ultimately, my brother and I took over; I’ve worked here continuously for 67 years!”
According to Red, his specialty is alterations. “I learned tailoring from my father who was a vest maker. Originally, the store was all custom clothing; I remember it filled with bolts of fabric… We still do a respectable custom business.”
Red’s biggest frustration these days is constant promoting by big stores. “We have two sales a year: spring and fall Dollar Days. But at the big stores, every day is dollar day! Still, we manage to compete based on quality, service and honesty. We have lots of repeat customers; most of our advertising is word of mouth.” (In fact, tie designer Lee Allison insists that he sells more ties at trunk shows at Nelson’s than at some major department stores!)
Red recalls that at one time there were four menswear stores in town; now they’re the sole survivors. “My son John now owns the store and also does all our buying. He’s doing a terrific job!” Asked the secret of his longevity, Red says he’s just an occasional drinker (a beer now and then) but eats anything and everything, including sausage and eggs for breakfast! “I don’t watch my diet but I used to walk a lot. I still go up and down the stairs to the tailor shop, and take regular walks around the block with my little Yorkie!”
Happy Birthday Red! Thanks for being a great role model, both personally and professionally.