Downtown Landmark Nathan’s Closing as Harris Estroff Retires

Lakeland is losing more than a clothing store — it is also losing a landmark downtown institution. Nathan’s Men’s Store will soon close, but not before finishing what 77-year-old owner Harris Estroff calls a “retirement sale.” Estroff was talking about his own retirement.

Nathan’s, which overlooks Munn Park from its perch on Main Street, was founded in 1942 by Estroff’s parents, Nathan and Mildred Estroff.

Harris Estroff said that by the time he was 10 he learned to make the different-sized cardboard boxes used for storing clothes.

By 1974, Estroff said, he and his father ran Nathan’s together. 

Estroff said sales of his fine men’s clothing in the past four years have been good and also flat and he’s not retiring because of slumping revenue. 

He said he wants to do things like golf. But he also said he reserves the right to “unretire.”

The store is closed until Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and scheduled to stay open for business until all inventory is sold. And there’s a lot of reduced-price stuff — from socks to hats to tuxedos — in about 9,000 square feet of space.

Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said Estroff has earned his retirement and Nathan’s is a personable business with “old-school shoppers.”  She said Nathan’s will be missed.

Customers and the staff at Nathan’s are on a first-name basis, she said.

It hasn’t always been easy competing with chain and big-box stores, Estroff said.

But, he said, Nathan’s has had the advantage of maneuverability. Big stores react to change slowly, he said, “while we can turn on a dime. They think, we thrive.”

Longtime customer Larry Peace is not at all pleased with the store closing.

“Where am I gonna buy my clothes?” Peace asked. “I’m not gonna buy them online. This is like losing a good friend.”

Dewey Slack, 76, the manager of Nathan’s, said it’s been a pleasure working for and with Estroff for the past 21 years.

“Harris is a great guy to work for and easy to get along with,” Slack said. “He enjoys his life and his business.”

Estroff said he’s not sure whether he will lease or sell his two-story building at the corner of Main Street and Tennessee Avenue. There’s an empty floor above Nathan’s.

Estroff said maybe the biggest reason Nathan’s has thrived so long is personal service.

“We’ve been able to do things that the big-box stores just can’t do,” Estroff said. He said he has delivered a bow tie to a wedding on several occasions. He said that’s the kind of stuff people don’t forget

He said even if you think something is a little silly, if that’s what the customers want that’s what they get. As an example, the said the fad of skin-tight clothing isn’t for him. He said some guys looked like sausage links.

He and his family of workers will of course miss the place, Estroff said. “It’s all we’ve known.”

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