by Paul Precht
He sold felt hats and wing tips in the days men suited up to go to a ball game. He’s kept a few samples of 70’s high stylema brocade vest and medallion, shoes with strawberry crosshatching and two-inch heels.
The sweatshirts emblazoned with athletic Iogos and “Batman” baseball caps are on sale now, because Callahan’s Men Shop is closing, 76 years after Paul Callahan’s father opened the first men’s store, the store which relocated 22 years ago to corner Centre Street and Harris Avenue.
“1 feel good about it,” says Callahan, who at age 64 is looking forward to his first vacation in at least six years. “The community has been good to me.” Neighboring businessman Stavros Frantzis stopped by to wish him well and applaud his decision to do something in the coming years besides work six days a week. “We will miss a good guy from Jamaica Plain,” Frantzis says. Between his Jamaica Plain store and another outlet in Dudley Square that closed last year, Callahan’s had a diverse clientelem blacks, whites and Latinos, young and old.
“We tried to find a niche for all of them,” Callahan explains. It had become more difficult recently, with rising overhead costs and major clothing lines like Levi’s no longer selling to small independent stores. “There are [brand name] lines that don’t do small retailers. They cater to department stores” or sell in their own stores, Callahan says.
“I could compete price-wise, I just couldn’t show the variety,” he says. “I don’t see much hope for new merchants to come to the area.” Richard Fowler, whose real estate and insurance business is one of the few that goes as far down memory lane as Callahan’s, remembers when Centre Street had half-a-dozen places where you could outfit yourself. The independent clothier, Fowler says, is going the way of the independent pharmacist and hardware store. “I’m sorry to see him go,” Fowler says. “He’s good people and a good neighbor and a good adjunct to the neighborhood.” The kids who played baseball in the Catholic Youth Organization leagues may not know it, but Callahan, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, helped outfit them in their uniforms. Callahan kept up with the changing styles, but he always kept shelf space for snap-brimmed hats and creased slacks sought by more traditional dressers. “We used to outfit the man from head to toe, hat to shoes,” Callahan says. “Now everyone wears jeans and a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, even at weddings.”
“I can remember selling a hat to Maurice Tobin and James Michael Curley when everybody wore hats,” Callahan remembers. The Celtic’s Sam Jones and George Scott of the ‘67 Red Sox also number among his clients. It will have been a long run when the doors close on the February 28, 40 years since he took over the Hyde Square store from his father. “The community has been good to me,” Callahan says. “Jamaica Plain is a good town, a good place to live.”
This article originally appeared in the February 24, 1995 edition of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.