Opened in 1902, the J.Press branch located on York Street is no stranger to weathering economic turmoil — and its performance during the recession following the financial crisis was no different, said store managers.
Though the store’s business felt the impact of the economic recession in the past two years, J.Press manager Jim Fitzgerald said the store has benefited from increased online sales, steady foot traffic in the downtown area and an expansion of its retail product lines.
“I think the market for our goods is definitely sustainable over the long term,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s always somebody looking for a good suit or sports coat.”
Throughout the volatile economic climate, J.Press has continued to serve its core client base — customers of older generations looking for high-quality goods and Yale students looking to exercise their 15 percent discount. At the same time, Fitzgerald conceded that J.Press merchandise, including suits that can cost thousands of dollars on average, may not cater to college students already on a tight budget.
“Every store can’t appeal to everyone,” he said. “That’s why we focus on what we do best.”
Still, marketing toward students has increased this year for J.Press, as a license agreement with Yale was signed in the spring, Fitzgerald said. In the works for many years, he said, the deal now allows the store to sell products bearing the Yale logo. Clothes including the University brand hit stores in March. Merchandise includes a gray sweatshirt with hood and fleece knitting for $160 and a lambswool cardigan for $350.
But expensive attire bearing Yale’s name and logos is not new to consumers browsing storefronts on York Street. Gant, a high-end Swiss-owned retail outlet that hit York Street in October last year, markets its own “Yale Co-op” label, which it sold in the Yale Bookstore in the 1960s.
Douglas Geller, the manager of the Yale campus branch of Gant, declined to comment on the store’s level of competition with J.Press, how it differentiates itself from other stores and how it appeals to Yale students.
For its part, Fitzgerald, the J.Press manager, said the current cluster of formal to semiformal clothing outlets near Broadway and York streets, including Jack Wills and J. Crew, should welcome the competition.
“Any store that tells you they didn’t suffer from the economy is not telling the truth,” Fitzgerald said. “But I don’t consider our neighboring stores competition. It’s much better than having empty spaces next door because it brings people to the area.”
He also added that the new Apple store slated to open next to the renovated Yale Bookstore on Broadway should bring more foot traffic to the shopping district.
For now, though, Fitzgerald said J.Press, like other businesses, is waiting for the national economy to turn around and that expansion is not out of the question. The store’s parent company, a Japanese apparel group called “Onward Kashiyama,” gives local stores freedom to run their operations, but talks of new branches are on the horizon.
“[There’s talk of opening more stores], but I don’t know if anything is imminent,” he said. “With this economy, it takes a whole lot to say you’re going to go for a new market and open a brand new store. In a booming economy, it’s easier to do that.”
To get to that point, Fitzgerald says he remains hopeful that people will dress more formally in the future than they ordinarily do today.
“We would love that day again because there were men’s stores lining the whole street because the market could support that,” he said. “Now the whole mentality of dress is much more casual. But with more suits selling in the past year, I think people are probably dressing up a bit more.”
J.Press has three other locations in Cambridge, Mass., New York City, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.