Mike Smith is known to pace his retail space — chatting with anyone who walks in, shifting merchandise, answering the phone and dropping to the floor for kids and dogs. It’s the tempo he prefers, even at 66 years old.
“I can stand for 20 hours and it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “Try to sit down for more than two — that’s impossible.”
His business partner, Alex, said, “He’s lucky he can still move.”
Although the frenetic, seven-day-work-week lifestyle fits the Smiths like the fine suits they’ve been selling to three generations of Magnolians, those days will soon come to an end. The husband-wife-team recently announced their retirement after 30 years as owners of Leroux Fine Apparel for Men & Women (3220 W. McGraw St.).
They haven’t yet set a specific retirement date, though Mike says it will be the end of May. “That’s the best I can come up with at this point,” he said. “It’s not gonna be long. The six weeks will blow by.”
The pair purchased the first-floor retail shop in 1985 from their friend and mentor Russ Jacobson, who bought the shop from the store’s founder, Bud Leroux.
Unless new interest sprouts quickly for the existing Leroux business model, the business name and its standing as one of the few freestanding first-floor retail stores in all of Seattle will shutter just before its 67th anniversary. Mike said there have been “a lot of people with interest” in taking over the space, but any potential of keeping the Leroux name is “still a work in progress.”
“There will be something fun in here, and it won’t be a bank,” Mike said.
Few of its kind left
While Seattle is home to many fashion retailers and boutiques, Leroux is one of the few brick-and-mortar, upscale specialty shops of its kind remaining today. The store began as Leroux Men & Boys clothing store and has remained at the same location since it opened in 1948, though it’s doubled in size since then. Even though it’s a neighborhood store, the Smiths say about half of the store’s business comes from outside Magnolia.
The Smiths have roots in the area: Mike was born in Magnolia, and Alex in Queen Anne, and both have been active, integral members of the community. Both spent time as president of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce and created a “Cheers”-type gathering point for neighbors.
“That will be one of the biggest voids once they’re gone,” said Scott Ward, a Magnolia Chamber of Commerce member. “Somebody’s going to have to pick that up.”
Unlike many of their industry peers, the retirement isn’t a dollars-and-cents issue. Mike, who started working as Leroux’s store’s manager in college, is ready to slow down — at least a little.
“I’m relieved we are retiring,” Alex said. “I’ve worried he would drop dead from a heart attack.”
Alex sent out 5,000 emails to announce the retirement, but many customers still found out about the change from the “Going out of Business” sign in the window. And, as good salespeople, Mike and Alex have the story and shtick down to a T: Mike calls it retiring but prefers to refer to it as “rebooting.”
He and Alex both half-joke about the learning curve for retirement and explain that they don’t know when the shop will officially end because “we’ve never done this before.”
Alex tells customers about a recurring nightmare in which she’s dressed as her grandmother, wearing a hairnet and lace-up shoes, asking, “Can I help you, dearie” into her 80s. It wakes her up screaming.
“Mike asks, ‘What is it?’” she said. “I say, ‘The store again.’”
The next chapter
When talking about their impending retirement, Mike said customers go through all of the stages of grief in three minutes, ending with a general happiness that the pair will be able to move on to their next chapter.
Longtime customer Sandi Prince said Leroux has been an important store for the men of Magnolia, including her husband, a tall man with long arms. She could always count on Leroux’s knowing his exact measurements as soon as he entered.
“The men of Magnolia are really going to miss them a lot,” Prince said. “The ladies will survive.”
Jan Jacobson Bomengen, Russ’ daughter, said her father always wanted to sell clothing, and she’s grateful he passed the brand onto such a dedicated pair.
“It’s been a part of my life for so long, it’s going to really pull at my heart strings,” she said of the closing.
The Smiths won’t cash out and move to an exotic locale. They plan to travel, volunteer and look after family and other projects in Magnolia. Store or not, Magnolia will always register as their home.
“You talk about heaven — this is it,” Alex said.
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