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Silverwoods to Close Doors After 70 Years : Retailing: The chain of 18 stores cites lagging sales and increasing costs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Silverwoods, a Southern California retailing institution for 70 years, will close its 18 stores early next year because of slumping sales, its parent company said Monday.

The stores--which feature tailored men’s and women’s business apparel--will be shut down soon after the Christmas season, said General Manager Bruce Amster. The chain’s 250 employees will be laid off or relocated.

Headquartered in Santa Ana, Silverwoods is a division of Hartmarx Specialty Stores Inc., which in turn is owned by Hartmarx Corp. of Chicago. The division said it will close up to 18 additional stores nationwide by year’s end to eliminate stores with marginal profits.

Hartmarx Specialty Stores group has 225 stores throughout the country, including Silverwoods locations and Atlanta-based Kuppenheimer, which markets Hartmarx clothing through Sears stores, said Hartmarx spokeswoman Pat Plodzeen.

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She said Silverwoods’ sales have lagged behind those of other Hartmarx stores. In total, the 36 stores up for closure have combined sales of $40 million, according to the company.

“The primary reason we are leaving this (Southern California) marketplace is that we have experienced declining sales and rising occupancy costs (rents) in recent years,” Amster said.

Silverwoods’ specialty--conservative suits for the workplace--contributed to its downfall, said apparel industry watcher Alan Millstein, editor of the New York-based monthly newsletter Fashion Network Report.

“They have been merchandising to a nonexistent customer base for 20 years,” Millstein said. “They totally missed the sportswear evolution, so they were out of sync with the Sun Belt lifestyle. It was as if management had never walked into a Gap (casual clothing store).”

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Furthermore, Millstein said, Silverwoods’ prices were too high for a region that dresses in sport jackets and khaki slacks. “The average price for a suit there is $600,” he said. “I’ve been watching (Silverwoods) slowly sink into the Pacific Ocean for some time now.”

Silverwoods has been a familiar name around Southern California for nearly three-quarters of a century. F. B. Silverwood, a Canadian immigrant, founded the first store in downtown Los Angeles. Hartmarx, one of the nation’s largest clothing manufacturers and retailers, bought the chain 50 years ago.

Hartmarx Corp. expects a “substantially larger” third-quarter loss that the $4.8 million it lost in the same time period a year ago, Plodzeen said.

Amster said the chain informed its employees Monday morning about the impending closure. “We’re doing everything we can to relocate management personnel to other markets,” he said, adding that the company would assist its salespeople in finding other jobs.

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Silverwoods stores are scattered in both large and small malls throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties.

“We will be contacting our landlords this week,” Amster said.

Plodzeen said that Hartmarx’s “manufacturing segment is doing well” and that its spring season orders are expected to be 3% ahead of last year.

Hartmarx’s wholesale division manufactures the brands Austin Reed, Hart Schaffner & Marx and Pierre Cardin tailored clothing for men, among others.

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