All that jazz: Elwood Flynn Ltd.

Celebrating 60 years in business, Elwood Flynn Ltd. in Saskatoon is a Canadian institution.

His amazing energy and elegance belying his 80-something years, Elwood Flynn shares some tricks of the trade.

Elwood FlynnHow is it you appear so youthful at 80-plus years old? Must be my Irish/Norwegian heritage: it’s a good combination. I’ve also been married for 58 years to the same wonderful woman. We have a great family: two sons (Barry runs Ultimo Euromoda, a fashion-forward men’s store in the same plaza we’re in; Jeff is president of Suncan Industries), a beautiful daughter-in-law, a fabulous grandson. We’ve done a lot of great travel; we’ve visited most parts of the world.

How did you start out in retailing? I was born in a small town but moved to Saskatoon after high school. Looking for work, I got a job right away at Mallin’s Menswear for $12 a week; I loved it enough to put college on hold. From there, I managed an upscale clothing store in the Senator Hotel and ultimately borrowed $4,000 from family to buy out my partner. It was 12 feet by 25 feet and featured mostly made-to-measure clothing (Coppley, Samuelsohn). We’re now in our fifth location (which is just 75 yards from our original spot in the hotel): it’s 3,700 sq. ft. on two levels in a major plaza. My wife and I also ran a shoe store for almost 40 years, and I have to say that I’m a much better men’s buyer because I worked in ladies shoes: I learned to anticipate change.

Many independent merchants anticipate change, but are barely staying afloat… I can’t take the credit: Saskatoon is the fastest growing city in Canada thanks to uranium, oil, gas and agriculture. It seems to be our turn. So our mailing list is growing: I used to personally know 75 percent of our customers; now I know 25 percent. On the other hand, customers who have great mortgages and nice cars often have less money to spend on clothes.

Tell us about your business. We still do a big clothing business ($699 and up) that has evolved from strictly Ivy League (soft shoulder coats, striped ties) to more of a modern mix. Models are trimming down: we do a big business in Hugo Boss and we’re selling Ted Baker (by Jack Victor) really well. We’re still strong in made to measure (Coppley) and do three custom events a year. We have a big shoe department (featuring Allen Edmonds) and do very well in furnishings.

And when you’re not working? I love jazz and continue to sponsor numerous jazz events in town. One of my best friends is a hall of fame trumpet player named Clark Terry. (I went to his wedding in Dallas on Valentine’s Day when he was 75…) I’ve spent much time listening to jazz in NYC: Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Sealy… Not a day goes by that I don’t listen to a lot of music!

But aside from music and fashion, what makes life truly enjoyable are our many great suppliers who are also close personal friends. After 60 years in business, what could be better than that?

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