RETAILERS HAVE COME and gone from London’s core area, but there are a handful of stalwarts that have weathered the changing landscape, the BRT debate, seemingly unending construction and, of course, pandemic lockdowns.
Clothier David E. White has operated in various downtown locations since opening his first London store in 1987, and his most recent move to a splashy retail space on the ground floor of the One Richmond Row apartment tower at 517 Richmond Street reconfirms his commitment to the core.
“The downtown area is full of personalities. My peers and I are very passionate downtown boosters. Circumstances have not been favourable for the core, but I just feel I belong here,” says White. “My name isn’t just above the door, I’m in the store. You lose your identity in a big mall.”
White opened his first store in Goderich in 1980 and then made the jump to London in 1987, opening on Richmond Street where the Tasting Room restaurant now resides. He relocated to the Talbot Centre building in 1990, and then moved to Richmond and Queens in 2000 — a store that became a retail fixture in the city for more than 20 years.
“The lease was coming due, and the footprint needed a reno,” White says of his previous location. So, when the opportunity to reside in Old Oak’s signature One Richmond Row development presented itself, he decided to jump at the chance.
“The 175 units are fully occupied,” he says of the luxury apartment tower. And pointing to the several additional core-area residential developments that are either under construction or scheduled to begin, White believes the downtown area — and core retail — is set for a strong rebound from pandemic challenges.
“I just feel I belong here. My name isn’t just above the door, I’m in the store. You lose your identity in a big mall” —David E. White
The new 1,600-square-foot space, which features three walls of glass and 24-foot ceilings, was designed to accommodate both the men’s shop and four barber chairs, up from two in the previous location. And while considerably smaller than the 3,600 square feet at his last location, White says the tighter footprint is right-sized, with a growing portion of his sales now coming online.
The concept of combining men’s clothing and grooming services under the same roof dates back to White’s experience during the 10 years that he operated in the Talbot Centre.
“There was a barbershop across the hall,” White recalls. “Men would get their hair cut then wander over to our store.”
When he moved to Richmond and Queens, White set up a barber shop onsite, operating as a separate business entity. The original barber, Ken Knisley, is still with him 22 years later.
“The barber shop brings traffic and helps us to establish relationships with clients,” continues White. “You need to get your hair cut regularly, and the cost of building out from two chairs to four was not exponentially more expensive.”
White also operates Legal Attire Canada, which has been outfitting judges and barristers for more than 30 years, providing custom fit robes, court shirts and other legal attire and accessories.
“This is a component of our business that often gets overlooked as it is not really a retail entity, but is very much an important part of business,” says White. Established initially to service the London legal community, the ecommerce platform now distributes across Canada.
After 43 years in the clothing business, through learning the ropes as an employee at the H.W. Ball menswear store in London to opening his first store in Goderich to today’s newly minted Richmond Row location, White says he’s not yet ready to retire. He concedes he has started succession planning, however, and envisions a gradual transition in ownership to long-time employee and current store manager, Brian Watts.