With his wide-mouthed grin — some might call it a leer — the mannequin in the window at Desmonds menswear store has shocked more than his fair share of late-night bar hoppers who pass by the lighted display on Higgins Avenue.
But Joe Cool, as the owner calls him, soon will have a new home because the men’s clothing store, which has been open in Missoula for 37 years, is going out of business.
Owner Barry Kubas said he hadn’t even considered the future of the mannequin in the window when a slump in sales that stretched on for a decade after the Great Recession gave him no other option than to close up shop.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it, then people called me and asked me to sell it to them,” he said.
He’s decided to sell the mannequin by silent auction, taking bids at the store through the end of the month, when one lucky person will become the new owner of Joe Cool. Kubas said the auction doesn’t come with any clause that Joe Cool must be publicly displayed by the buyer.
So far this month, Kubas said he’s been getting a call or two a day from people interested in Joe Cool.
“One woman told me she lives alone but travels a lot. She wanted to have him so she can put him up in the house while she’s gone to make it look like someone is there,” he said.
Joe Cool was one of several mannequins in the store when it first opened in Southgate Mall at the start of the 1980s. But he was the only one to make the move downtown more than two decades ago.
“From Day One in the downtown store he’s drawn an audience. People come by daily and take pictures of him through the window,” Kubas said.
Desmonds will close for good at the end of January. Kubas said he isn’t able or ready to retire though.
“I’ll have to test the job market for whatever is out there.”
The store did well until the Great Recession — including having its best sales year in 2007 — but when the economy turned down, sales plummeted.
“People just closed their wallets and never came back,” said Kubas, the sole owner of Desmonds since the retirement of his business partner Bill Chavez shortly before the economy went south.
Another factor that has led to Desmonds closing is a trend Kubas said he’s seen over the past decade: a decrease in professionalism of work attire for white-collar employees. While he said it’s happening everywhere, he feels it is more pronounced in Missoula.
“In my opinion nobody takes pride in how they dress anymore. You go to banks and they aren’t wearing suits. Accountants don’t wear a sport coat to work every day,” said Kubas, who was likewise not impressed by a Missoulian reporter’s “unpressed” flannel shirt.
Since the recovery of the markets, Kubas said increased online sales, both from internet retailers like Amazon as well as the companies he stocks selling direct to consumers, has made business difficult for a local shop like his, which also provides services like custom fitting and tailoring.
“It’s people wanting to punch a button rather than go shopping,” Kubas said.
In addition to the impact on specific stores, Kubas said online shopping hurts communities overall.
“When you buy something in Missoula, whether local or at a chain store, somebody in town is making a paycheck. That person can go and buy at another store, where another employee can then go and shop at another store.”
And at some point — at least, for the next couple of weeks — that local shopper will be able to nod to Joe Cool in the window of Desmonds.