The house that Jack built

  • Warren Cornwall / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, November 14, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Businessmen came here for gray suits.

Air Force personnel stationed at Paine Field stopped in for the latest in civilian wear.

Even Bing Crosby picked up a few shirts one day when his luggage got lost.

Now, the only people left are the bargain hunters, the antiques scavengers and the occasional longtime customer.

They drop in to shake the hand of a man many know only by his first name, Jack. They breathe in the smells of leather and wool. They gaze at the ancient, single-speed bicycle hanging from the ceiling, the suit of armor in the window, the trinkets lining the walls.

Then they bid Jack’s Men’s Shop farewell and walk out onto the corner of Hewitt and Oakes avenues in Everett.

"I’m really going to miss this store," said Steve Sullivan as he lingered at the counter. "There isn’t any place like it."

Once, there were a lot of places like Jack’s — downtown stores where men could buy their shirts, be greeted by name and talk baseball with the owner. Now, there is just Jack’s. And it will be shuttered within days.

"This is the last of the breed," said Jack Baker as he surveyed the room where he has spent the last 49 years.

When Baker opened his shop on April 2, 1952, Everett was dominated by paper mills. Harry Truman was president, U.S. soldiers were at war in Korea and the men’s fashion of the day was a gray flannel suit.

Baker turned 25 the day he opened the doors. He had moved from Los Angeles to his wife’s hometown of Everett three years earlier.

He styled the store in Old English, with dark, wood-paneled walls, antique furniture and a fireplace in the back. Over time, his taste for antiques added an eclectic twist. A stuffed teddy bear now sits at the feet of a suit of armor. An ancient cream-separating machine rests in a corner. Mickey Mouse figurines pose near an old dagger mounted in a picture frame.

Baker said he ran his shop with one motto in mind: "If you treat the customers right, they’ll come back."

For decades, Jack’s was a destination spot for Everett fashion.

Crosby was referred to the store once when he arrived without his luggage, Baker said. The 1960s was the busiest time, when airmen lined up twice a month after payday to put money down on the latest styles.

Reggie Anderson’s dad brought him from Snohomish to buy his first suit for his high school graduation in 1968. Anderson stood in the store Wednesday, pointing to an empty patch of carpet that once boasted a display of cuff links.

"To me, this was the coolest place," said Anderson, now 51 and a plumber.

Baker had four people working for him then. The store was open until 9 p.m. during the Christmas holidays.

"We had some beautiful lines of clothing," he said. "That was when people dressed up."

Now, the store is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Baker runs it alone and wonders at kids who pay top dollar for torn jeans.

The store feels a bit like a time capsule.

The dressing-room walls are papered by fashion advertisements featuring men with long hair and bellbottoms. Baker’s speech has the air of another era. He refers to his customers as "gentlemen," and punctuates sentences with "jeez" and "by golly."

Adam Nichols first came from Seattle to Jack’s several years ago and bought "vintage" clothing off the rack. He was returning now to see what old-fashioned wares he could buy.

"I don’t know if there are any men’s shops left," he said. "It’s almost too un-PC (politically correct)."

Baker has watched as many of his regular customers died or moved away and as another generation forsook the store for malls and the Gap. "I don’t carry the stuff kids want today," he said.

Everett officials want to build a sports and performance arena across the street. The owner of his building has mentioned a restaurant may take the place of his store, Baker said.

Now, at 74, Baker is vague about his plans. He’s gotten two job offers to work as a clothing buyer for stores. But he doesn’t sound certain he will take an outside job. Maybe he’ll just "take life easy for a while."

During a lull, he stands in the middle of the store and surveys the remaining racks of clothes, the open spots where other racks once stood and the walls that once teemed with old clocks, statues and gadgets.

"There’s not much left," he said. "There’s not much left."

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to

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