By Adrienne Fawcett
Trey Gonzales and Kip Helverson bought a small business just ahead of a worldwide pandemic, which prompted seemingly everyone to move to online purchasing. Toward the end of their two-year anniversary as owners of Smith’s Men’s Store, they expanded the business, nearly doubling its space to 2,800 square feet.
Why do they believe in-person retail can thrive? The two owners cite three factors. According to Gonzales and Helverson:
Trey Gonzales (left) and Kip Helverson celebrated the two-year anniversary of their ownership of Smith’s Men’s Store by nearly doubling its square footage.
1. “We knew there was still a business here. We were reading blogs and neighborhood social media pages and many people within Lake Forest/Lake Bluff wanted to see Smith’s continue. That was our first factor.
2. “Market conditions are demonstrating people are looking for convenience and tailored experiences, which is driving the shop local movement. Big box stores and mega malls have fallen out of fashion.
3. “Marshall Field, one of Chicago’s most famous retailors, had a saying: ‘Give the lady what she wants.’ Well, that became our mantra too: ‘Give the gentlemen what he wants.’ We want people to buy what they want, versus sell them what we have. We strive to curate clothes and accessories that fit the needs (and styles) of North Shore men.”
This fall, the duo expanded Smith’s directly behind the existing Western Avenue store after the previous tenant (a hair salon) retired and the space became available. The addition maintains the store’s original footprint and its preppy/classic/masculine vibe. The store’s primary colors of blue and khaki continue, which Gonzales describes as being based on a gentleman’s uniform of life: a navy blazer and khaki pants.
When you walk into the new addition, one of the first things you notice (aside from the bourbon and coffee bar) is a rack of about 100 blue-and-white checked shirts on an upper hanging rack, which makes one wonder if local men are somehow being required to wear a new gingham uniform.
But no—there is no gingham uniform going on. These are Stantt shirts, and they are Smith’s new custom-shirt service.
“Once a gentleman is measured, he is able to put on a custom-fitted shirt from the ‘fit line.’ There are 103 different sizes of shirts, and once he finds his fit, we can make adjustments in all directions from size, collar, color and fabric,” Helverson explained. “The end result is perfectly custom-made shirts for Smith’s demographic of gentlemen aged 16 to 90-plus.”
Fabric offerings in the Stantt line include 100% cotton, wrinkle-resistant, performance, flannel, tuxedo, chambray, oxford cloth and more (you can even get gingham if you want it!).
The owners received many requests for a boys’ section, and this holiday season they introduced a small offering of boys clothing, including PJ pants that match the adult sizes. In the spring they will offer staple items for boys such as dress shirts, khaki pants and swim trunks.
“But our primary purpose is to bloom where we are planted and make sure we develop a superior experience for gentlemen,” Helverson said.
Another new addition to Smith’s is the logo, which has been tweaked in a way that modernizes it while also maintaining the store’s 84-year tradition. Vintage photos of Smith’s ads revealed the original logo included a lantern, so the new logo includes a lantern as well.
“We wanted to update the logo to a current look, without losing the charm, style and sophistication of Lake Forest,” Gonzales said.
Charm, style and sophistication: That’s Smith’s to a T.