A sale a minute: Hickey Freeman's local finale draws nostalgic crowd
Nostalgic bargain hunters turned out Thursday morning for their last chance to buy Hickey Freeman-branded clothing made in Rochester.
The gathering was small, at first, but soon swelled into the dozens for the grand opening sale at the company’s new downtown factory store – the first factory sale in five years.
“Hickey Freeman's legacy is very significant, you know,” said shopper Anthony Rotoli, whose parents and grandparents all worked for the company.
Hickey Freeman’s local roots trace back almost 125 years. But starting next month, the label will be made in Mexico. Local manufacturing will continue under a different brand called Rochester Tailored Clothing.
While there is a sense of loss in not retaining the storied label, Rotoli and others said the more important thing is retaining the business, the manufacturing and the jobs that have been a first step and a career for many immigrants and others over the decades.
When it comes to these factory sales, the once-annual events historically were greeted with great anticipation and large crowds that stretched around the block of the North Clinton Avenue facility.
“A lot of the fun part was right in the beginning,” said David O’Connell, who has been coming to these sales since the 1980s. “(You would) start talking to some people find out where they're from, and there's people from Canada, there's people from all over New York state.”
And people from right here in Rochester. O’Connell joined Rotoli as two of the first in line. And the pair reminisced about what used to be.
“The excitement that preceded a Hickey Freeman outlet sale was significant,” Rotoli said. “You'd be talking about it with your office mates, and you'd already have a strategy of getting there, getting your coffee, and getting set up to be in line. It was a big thing.”
Rotoli arrived a half-hour before the store opened on Thursday, expecting a long line.
“And I was like, where is everybody?” he said.
Times have changed.
The industry already was in decline. A more casual work environment meant people were buying fewer suits. When the white-collar workforce shifted to work-from-home during the pandemic, Hickey Freeman’s business fell by 75%, company officials have said.
But there’s still demand. Within an hour of opening, the line of people waiting to check out stretched around the small store. One hundred and twenty separate sales were recorded in the first two hours of the store opening Thursday – a pace of one every minute.
“I must have 40 suits over the years, and I still have most of them. They're gorgeous,” said Paul Hill, a certified financial planner who adjusted his appointments Thursday to be first at the sale and get the best selection.
“They're great for my business,” he said. “And this looks like my one last chance to buy some more suits.”
There still will be a Hickey Freeman brand. But being Rochester-made meant something to these shoppers.
“It is always a part of simply Rochester pride,” Hill said.