Mike Cote's Business Notebook: George Angelopoulos kept customers dressed for success
By MIKE COTE
Owner George Angelopoulos of George's Apparel, left, gathers with his sales staff including All Camarata, from right, Gary Marino, Holly Auger, Denis Labbe, Joe St. Pierre and General Manager Bernie Marchowsky in Manchester in 2012. Angelopoulos died July 7. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
By the time George’s Apparel celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, George Angelopoulos was down to visiting his Manchester shop only once a week, having long given up its management to his employees.
Angelopoulos, 92, died July 7, but his namesake menswear shop continues to operate. The independent hometown retailer has found a way to thrive alongside chain stores and online merchants by providing the personal touch.
“Everything I do is with people. You come in and shake hands,” Angelopolous said during a 2012 interview. “I don’t spend a lot of time at the office. I’m in the people business. That’s what it’s all about.”
At 87, Angelopolos was still logging 40 hours a week. That’s how many hours he said he was putting in when I spent some time with him about 5 1/2 years ago for a Sunday News column. For years, he had been working seven days a week.
“When you own your own business, that’s part of the deal,” Angelopolous told me in the basement of his 675 Elm St. store, where seamstresses work on alterations. “But if you really enjoy something, when you come to the store it’s not work. It’s just enjoyment.”
While the current managers of the store have had plenty of time to adapt to running the business without him, Angelopolos’s death seems to mark the end of an era. Yet that era ended long before Angelopolous stopped working there. While independent stores remain, the industry is dominated by mall retailers like Mens Wearhouse.
“The retail business has changed so much over the past 10 years,” Angelopolous said during our talk. “People aren’t dressing up as much as they used to, and our sources of buying merchandise has decreased a great deal. I’m sorry to say I have to buy overseas. I’d rather have factories in this country. They can’t compare as far as wages. There aren’t too many business suits made in this country.”
Angelopolos was born in Dover in 1925, the son of John and Julia (Petropoulos) Angelopoulos. He served in the Army during World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded a Purple Heart, according to his obituary. He was predeceased by his wife, Vivian, and had four stepchildren and nine grandchildren.
Angelopoulos opened his first clothing shop, Squires Men’s Shop, in Dover in 1955 and ran it for 15 years before moving to Manchester. Before buying the store that would become his namesake for the next 30 years, Angelopoulos worked for Jim’s Oxford Shop and then operated a clothing store on Maple Street. When John Gravis, the owner of a store on Elm Street that had been in business for 25 years, decided to retire he invited Angelopoulos to buy his business.
Back then, clothing stores stocked their shops primarily with products manufactured in the United States. Clientele included businesses that wanted to outfit their executives.
“Thirty or 40 years ago, the store sold 8,000 to 9,000 suits a year. (Gravis) went to all these factories in New York,” Angelopoulos said. “He bought them for $30 or $40, and he sold them for $99, $119, free alterations. He had people from various corporations coming in. People back then dressed.”
These days, George’s Apparel is typically busiest from mid-March through November, which includes the prom and wedding seasons, said Jamie Gillingham, assistant store manager. The secret to the store’s success remains the same.
“You get more caring from us than you do from the box stores,” said Gillingham, who joined George’s Apparel as a presser before graduating to the sales floor.
Angelopoulos cut back his activity at the store after he broke his hip a few years ago, leaving him unable to climb stairs, Gillingham said.
“He was the most unselfish person I’ve ever met in my life,” Gillingham said Thursday. “He was the best boss I ever had.”
Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or email@example.com.