Capitol Clothing to close

Downtown Sacramento will lose another small merchant when Guy Hungerford closes Capitol Clothing Co. next month.

The loss is already being mourned by men who’ve bought suits from him over the last 30 years. To them, Hungerford is an institution known for dispensing one-liners even quicker than his fashion advice.

On a recent afternoon, customer Kevin Woodruff stood among racks of sale-priced suits and bemoaned the store’s impending closure.

"Where will we go when you’re gone?" asked Woodruff, who wore a Hawaiian-type print shirt and slacks. "The problem is I don’t buy that many suits. I haven’t bought a suit in 11 years."

"Murder. MURDER," Hungerford said. "You’re killing me with that, you know. I need you guys in suits every day."

Hungerford got into the business selling suits at a store called Vaughn’s in 1980. In 1983, he became a partner in another store, Planteen and Krogh, on K Street. The store closed after the city acquired the property using eminent domain.

He opened his own store, Capitol Clothing Co., in 1993. Since then, the store has operated at six spots within a block of 11th and K streets. Hungerford opened in his present location across from the Capitol at 1107 L St. two years ago.

The recession and a continued trend toward more casual clothing has hurt suit sellers like Hungerford. But the state’s money problems and cuts in state workers’ pay have killed business, he said.

"A year ago, somebody over there brought up the possibility of a fourth furlough day," he said, pointing to the state Capitol. "On that day, (business) stopped."

"I’ve seen it slow plenty of times in the last 30 years," he said. "It’s never stopped. On that day, it stopped."

Hungerford’s clients don’t include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ("His suits are custom-made in Thailand or something"), who ordered state workers to take unpaid furloughs three times a month and, now that furlough Fridays ended in June, is seeking to pay them minimum wage. Hungerford doesn’t blame the governor.

"It’s not Arnold," he said. "It’s the Legislature. Those boys run the show."

His name is painted in gold right on the front window, which reads, "Capitol Clothing Co. Guy Hungerford." Now, big purple letters on the store’s display windows also read, "Everything MUST GO! Store Closing LIQUIDATION. Permanent Furlough!"

The walls of the shop are lined with business suits, many from Montreal suitmaker S. Cohen. Every suit is now on sale. The store also carries ties, socks, dress shirts and a few casual shirts.

Hungerford usually avoids talking politics with customers, who are primarily state agency staff, city workers, lobbyists and attorneys. He knows most of them by name. Hungerford has found they’d rather talk about baseball or anything but work. He stays away from high-pressure sales tactics.

“We try to keep things simple here,” he said. “When I go out to shop, I don’t want somebody to jump on me.”

A few local and state politicians also frequent his shop, although most state legislators do business in their districts, he said.

Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty, who stopped by the shop Friday, has been a customer of Hungerford’s for about 10 years.

"He’s been an institution in the downtown area for quite a while," McCarty said. "He’s always given me an opinion on what’s going on at City Hall. When I go in, I usually get more than a suit, a sports coat or new shirt.”

State workers make up about 20 percent of the city’s workforce, and businesses like Hungerford’s are being impacted by the pay cuts, McCarty said.

"Even in the best of times, it’s not like we’re getting rich selling suits on K Street," Hungerford said. "The furlough thing has just puckered everybody up."

Hungerford won’t be the only one losing a means of income when the store closes. He’s had the same tailor for 27 years. Now, she’ll be losing business, too, he said.

"Business is kind of ugly for everybody down here these days," he said. "The problem is, I can’t see an end. I can’t see an end anytime soon."

Hungerford, 60, can’t afford to retire. His youngest will enter high school next year.

McCarty said he’s not sure what to make of the store closure. It’s not the first time Hungerford has shuttered his store. The last time, four or five years ago, the store was closed for about two years. Then Hungerford reopened in his present location.

"He says it’s time to get a real job," McCarty said. "I’m not sure what the past 25 years have been — that hasn’t been a real job?"

Ironically, Hungerford’s goal is to get a job with the state. He’s already taken the state job exam to become a business services officer.

But first, he’s got to sell the rest of his merchandise. Suits that normally sell for $300 to $400 are currently selling at $99 to $199. Hungerford plans to close his shop in three to five weeks, after he sells as much inventory as possible.

"Until it comes time for me to stand around here trying to sell a $39 coat — then I’ll lock the doors, paper over the windows and be done," he said. "Maybe I’ll have a job by then. That’d be nice."

Photos by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

July 22, 2010 | 9:07 AM

Sad to see it happen. Savvy leaders in the private sector are bracing for the next dip in the economy by trimming down all variable expenses even further. Wage and benefit reductions that began in 2006 will remain in place. Forecast for the next 18 months is very gloomy indeed, with increases in taxes, unemployment, and a big wave of home foreclosures

July 22, 2010 | 9:41 AM

Small clothing retailers have been at the forefront of business closures for more than a decade. Ross dress for less, walmart, and similar chains have taken the sustaining lifr from the small retailers

Leave a Reply