Captain Maurie and Crew Look Forward to Another Half-Century
April 29, 2016
To hear Maurie Allen tell it, the fact that his men’s clothing store is celebrating a half-century is all because of others.
“We have been so blessed,” said Allen, Captain’s Quarters owner.
“Blessed” might not be a word you hear often in a business discussion, but it’s one you hear over and over in conversation with Allen, his family and staff at the landmark haberdashery in downtown Traverse City. Allen feels he is blessed to live and work in Traverse City, blessed to have had so many caring staffers and customers, and blessed to be in business for 50 years.
“I never thought about it [50 years]. It just crept up. I’ll be 75 in July,” Allen said.
He said opening the store was “the second-best decision I ever made in my life.”
Number one was marrying the love of his life, Betsy, herself a veteran of the downtown retailer.
After 50 years, the always sharp-dressed Allen continues to work three days a week or more, as he did during the recent bridal show at Grand Traverse Resort. That’s really no surprise, given the fact that he still finds it engaging.
“The business is still interesting. I always enjoyed men’s clothing,” said Allen.
Captain’s Quarters’ existence is due, in part, to Montgomery Ward. Allen was working for the now-defunct department store chain when he and his wife Betsy were transferred to Traverse City. They immediately fell in love with the town and the area.
“When I saw the city for the first time, I thought this was the most amazing place,” he said.
That was in 1964. Two years later, they had the opportunity to move back to Fort Wayne.
“It was a transfer to our hometown and a shiny new store,” Allen said.
Instead, they decided to stay put.
“Betsy and I had three kids and we decided we wanted to raise them here,” he said.
“We said, ‘If there’s any way to stay here…’ and the stars aligned.”
They bought a men’s clothing store from a downtown merchant who was looking to retire. A few years later, the store moved next door to its present location when a women’s clothing store moved out.
As is often the case, the store became a family endeavor. Maurie, Betsy and their children Jason, Lisa and Matt all worked in the store.
“Even during the time when we moved from next door, we’d have work bees,” said Betsy, from hauling trash out to painting and wallpapering.
“It was a family business. We were blessed by a wonderful community; it was a lot of blessings,” said Jason, using that word again.
The maritime theme came about as Allen surveyed the surrounding water. “The bay, the river — the name seemed appropriate. It made sense,” said Allen.
The store boasts nautical decor throughout, from maps and sextants on the walls to an aquarium inside a coffee/display table. The theme even extends to the lingo. Both Betsy and longtime staffer Wayne Schmidt say of street sale time, “It’s all hands on deck.”
Schmidt is just one of the many people who have worked at the store during its halfcentury.
“A lot of people have worked here and gone on themselves. It’s flattering to see that,” said Allen.
He said his first employee was Bill Kurtz, while Bob Brick and Tim Brick were also among the early hires. Kurtz went on to become a longtime downtown businessman, heading Kurtz Music. Bob Brick is one of the area’s longest-serving realtors, while Tim Brick owns and operates Brick Wheels.
Current manager Dennis Fox said, in his previous life as a mortgage officer, he always wore suits and enjoyed dressing the part. He thought it would be enjoyable to immerse himself in the industry.
Michelle Edick works extensively with formal wear, as well as the store’s stock of clothing. She said she likes the fact that, while some pieces reflect changing tastes and trends, others remain virtually unchanged.
“Classics never go out of style,” she said. They are among the 16 staffers listed on the store’s website, from industry veteran Lee Abbey to college student Adam Bergin.
HOW THE BUSINESS HAS CHANGED
Captain’s Quarters has never gone in for trendy. It has, however, changed with the times, such as the shift toward more casual wear for business.
“It’s more sportswear-oriented,” said Allen. The store still carries a large selection of suits and sport coats. Now they’re displayed next to bright, colorful ties and socks, as well as shorts and polo shirts.
He said attending regional and national markets and shows helps them pick up new trends and new lines.
“Computerization has helped us a lot,” said Allen, enabling the staff to really see what’s selling and what isn’t.
Captain’s Quarters has weathered another sea change in the industry, as clothing stores migrated to malls or simply went out of business, particularly men’s clothing stores.
“At one time in the 60s or 70s, there were seven downtown,” Allen said. Today, the likes of Hamilton’s, Pratt’s and Milliken’s Men’s Store are but a fading memory.
“It’s amazing even one is left,” he added. Perhaps it’s not so amazing considering how important customer service is to the crew. They even trademarked the slogan, “The one men’s store that really does care.” Even when off the clock, staff who stop in often lend a helping hand.
“If I came into the store and it was busy, I didn’t hesitate to wait on somebody,” said Betsy.
Schmidt spoke of working as guest services manager at Grand Traverse Resort and speaking to a guest who needed some business wear. He still had a key to Captain’s Quarters and went down to the store, where he got a dress shirt and tie and brought them back.
In addition to Captain’s Quarters, some longtime retailers are still holding forth in Traverse City, such as Petertyl Drug and Gift Center, Votruba Leather Goods and Horizon Books, but many others have fallen by the wayside.
“Wards, Penney’s, Woolworth, Kresge, Milliken’s were all anchors downtown,” said Allen.
Now they’re gone, but in their place are numerous other shops, restaurants and other attractions.
“It’s become a much livelier place,” he noted. Both Jason Allen and Wayne Schmidt went on to politics, serving locally and at the state level. Jason said he thinks that was inspired in part by his dad’s dedication.
“Dad and the community instilled a spirit of public service. Dad was the first Downtown Traverse City Association president at 26 or 27,” Jason said.
The elder Allen also served on boards at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority and is a longtime member of the Traverse City Rotary Club. He was also one of the founders of the Cherry Capital Men’s Chorus and today is the only one still performing with the barbershop harmony group.
Can Captain’s Quarters go on another 50 years?
“Let’s hope,” said Allen with a laugh. “If my life could continue just the way it is, another 50 could fly by, no problem.”