Three generations of Ginsberg family business came tumbling down in 2014. In March, the famed Shirt Corner at 3rd and Market Street collapsed during a controlled demolition. A month later, tragedy struck again.
Gary Ginsberg was opening the family’s sister business, the Suit Corner, across the street when a blaze erupted from somewhere in the building. He and eight staffers did their best — but it ripped through the four-story structure faster than they could douse it with water. They had to flee for their own lives.
Philadelphia firefighters spent hours trying to put out the inferno that engulfed the 100-year-old building. It ate through the giant-lettered store sign with its red-white-and-blue panels that were plastered across the old brick structure. By nightfall, the Suit Corner’s immediately recognizable facade was gone.
“It was a catastrophe,” Ginsberg said of the setbacks.
But the Ginsbergs vowed to rebuild. Gary’s father Jerry, who owned the buildings, rented a storefront a few blocks away at 6th and Market where the combined “Suit and Shirt Corner” maintained operations during construction.
In June, more than six years after the fire, the Ginsbergs re-opened at their original location. Gone is the loud corner building in favor of a smaller, modern storefront at 302 Market Street known simply as the Shirt Corner again.
Of course, establishing the business again in the middle of a pandemic has not been easy. And true, it’s no longer on the corner (that’d be Mamoun’s Falafel now). But the name, Ginsberg says, still carries authority in these parts.
“It’s almost like Pat’s and Geno’s,” he said. “It’s been here for 80 years and it’s like an institution in the city.”
‘It used to be all our stores here’
The Ginsberg haberdashery business dates back to Gary’s great grandfather. Through the generations, the family has run numerous shops under different names — the Shirt Corner, the Suit Corner, Pants Corner, Tie Corner, Region Shoes, and in the early days, Cadet Neckwear. The common denominator: they were all right in Old City.
“We started the neighborhood,” Ginsberg said. “They really coulda named 3rd Street after our names because it used to be all our stores here back in the 60s and 70s.”
Ginsberg started working in the shop when he was 13, opening the doors and greeting customers who came in looking for a jazzy two-piece for their next big event.
Now, he’s the one running the show. It’s a point of pride that the family landmark has survived in an area that has seen widespread redevelopment and retail turnover in the last 30 years.
But it’s also a bittersweet milestone. His father Jerry died two years ago while the original location was being rebuilt. The patriarch of the family never got to step foot in the new store, but Gary, now 58, carries on the salesman legacy.
On a sleepy Thursday morning on Market Street, he delivers a sales pitch in front of the window displays.
“When you wear my clothes, everyone compliments you,” he said. “If you have a wedding or special event, somewhere you want to shine — you come to Shirt Corner.”
The Ginsberg brand of fashion has always been unmistakably old school. Think 70s-era bold-patterned shirts and pressed linen pants, displayed as “sets” for a reasonable $70 to $90 in the new storefront windows.
An hour and a half after opening that day, he still hadn’t had his first customer of the day.
Post blaze, surviving the pandemic business slump
Tourism hasn’t yet returned to Old City, where local businesses rely heavily on out-of-town visitors who come to see the historic sites nearby. Even as restaurants and bars woo customers back, the streets of East Market are a ghost of their former self, with many storefronts only seeing only a fraction of the sales that they usually see in this season.
“Every day now is just a journey,” Ginsberg said. “There’s no more weekends where you used to be busy.”
The global apparel and fashion industry is one of many to face an “existential crisis” that still doesn’t offer any clear predictors for the future. Clothing sales plummeted 34% in March. Century 21 is closing all its stores, including the giant anchor in the new Fashion District. Consumers were opting to save over making purchases because of the economic fallout, studies showed.
But the proprietor the unique fashion they offer will always be a draw. He has a salesman’s faith in his product that borders on the braggadocious. “We’re the fashion leader in the United States,” he says in a serious tone.
For Ginsberg, it might take more than a pandemic to get them off the family corner.
As he said while choking back tears as the building burned before his eyes in 2014: “This is the only thing I know how to do in life.”