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Ask me about ... how to compete with Amazon, what’s selling in men’s clothing these days and Tony Bennett

PITTSBURGH — Over the years, Chas Schaldenbrand has rubbed shoulders with lawyers, business executives and celebrities. He founded Heinz Healey's men's apparel store in 1988.

He discussed where the store's name came from and which business adages really hold true.

PG: How did you get started in the clothing business?

A. Well, I started out in shoes in upstate New York, Chicago. When I came to Pittsburgh, we got involved with Station Square. [Former Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation President] Arthur Ziegler wanted a men's clothing store. Couldn't get one so he asked us to do it, and we got started with it 33 years ago.

PG: Where did the Heinz Healey name come from?

A. That's my oldest son. That's his name. Heinz is his first name. Healey, which is a family name for my wife, is his middle name.

PG: You've been in the business a long time. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in men's clothing over the years?

A. Well, men are not required to dress like they did when I started. We had Hughes and Hatcher. IBM [employees] would come in and get their shoes shined and tie their ties right, wear hats. That all has seemed to change over the years.

There are still a lot of occupants that still have to do suits. Lawyers have to do suits when they go to court. So it's still a suit business. It's just not like it was back in the day.

PG: In this day of Amazon and online shopping, how does a specialty men's store like yours stay in business and thrive?

A. We're selective in the purchases that we make to sell to people. And then we coordinate them, the shirts, the ties. Online, you can't do that. In fact, we have people that come in and want measurements so they can get a custom suit or custom sport coat. [Online] the outcome is not going to be as great as if it was in a store with people who knew what they were doing.

PG: You have been able to survive the pandemic ...

A. Yeah, we were closed for 60 days. I think the government helped us with money for employees so the employees didn't get hurt. It was a mess with the merchandise when you have to close your store and you got merchandise to sell, and then 60 days later you open it up and you're going to another season. So it's a little tough that way.

I think the biggest thing was all the merchandise being tied up in containers in different places. We had a very hard time getting merchandise. And really the customers, I guess, understood it. They waited and it worked out OK.

PG: What would you say is the biggest lesson that you've learned from the pandemic?

A. Big lessons? Boy, it's hard to say. It was so confusing. Dates, manufacturers who we had placed orders with — Nothing was a certainty. And I don't know if we have another one what would be different to be honest with you. I'm amazed at the amount of business that we do [now]. We've had the best couple of years we've ever had, 33 years in this particular store.

A lot of it was the weddings, postponements of weddings. That was a big boost. We're still selling a lot of suits.

PG: How is business these days?

A. It's fantastic. Other than the weddings, I guess we're missing 60% of our customers who aren't working in town anymore. Saturdays were really busy. We don't open Sundays. Sunday used to be a good shopping day for us. We don't do Sundays anymore. We don't have enough help to cover. But business has been very good.

PG: You mentioned that part of the workforce is still not coming Downtown. But you've been able to get over that hurdle and still do well?

A. Yeah. It's hard to explain. When they do come back buying, they're into suits and sport coats. The ones who just wear a shirt and dress pants, our sales are way up in those.

PG: What would you say are your biggest sellers these days?

A. Suits and sport coats are probably tied. Suits give you more money because they're more expensive. We sell more sports coats. They're definitely at the top of the list for us.

PG: And even with so many people working at home, there's still a demand for sports coats and suits?

A. I think what really happened was with all the weddings, they were sort of forced into going to the weddings. People spent more money on them this year because of the wait [coming out of the pandemic]. So they were a little bit more extravagant. I think that's what helped, too.

PG: You're friends with Jim Nantz, the CBS sports broadcaster. What other celebrities have shopped at your store over the years?

A. Tony Bennett. The nice one was the presidential candidate from Ohio but he's a Pittsburgher [John Kasich]. He walked in the store one day . . . They're not the crux of our business. We get people in from Carnegie Mellon University, Pitt. They like to dress.

PG: You mentioned Tony Bennett. Why did he stop in the store?

A. He needed a tie for his tux. He and his daughter came in.

PG: How did your friendship with Jim Nantz start?

A. Bob Pompeani of CBS, KDKA, he brought him up some years ago and we just hit it off. He actually has a clothing line himself, a Jim Nantz clothing line, small. He has a shop where he lives in California.

PG: What's the best advice you could give to someone who's starting out in the retail clothing business these days?

A. Get a good location. You can be the greatest in the world, but if you have a bad location or the location goes down, that's what hurts it. Pick a good location I would say would be the number one thing.

PG: So the old adage about location, location, location still holds true?

A. Yes. When they brought me down here, this building ... the roof had caved in and everything, and they told me across the street there was going to be a park. I said, are you sure of that? [That] means no high building would be built there [to] hide you. People can see you from anywhere. We have no trouble with people finding the store.

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This story was originally published September 20, 2022 5:30 AM.

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