Work clothes supplier Abe Bernstein Clothing Inc. tailors itself to changing needs
A year after William Bernstein founded his work-uniforms supply company in 1895 in the South Side, his wife insisted that he move it from their home to a building next door.
It was a wise decision. Relocating the business preserved household harmony, and the bigger building put the venture on track to last well over a century. Today, the company known as Abe Bernstein Clothing Inc. is the South Side's oldest continuously operating company.
“My grandfather's principal business was supplying workers in the steel mills back when there were about seven steel mills on the South Side,” CEO Bill Bernstein said.
Over the decades, the company fought off problems from the demise of the steel industry locally by diversifying its customer base to cover workers ranging from carpenters to grave diggers, pushing deeply into business-to-business sales and developing online sales.
A revised website for the company, which branded itself in the 1980s as “U.S. Abe” after Abe Bernstein, Bill Bernstein's uncle, will debut within days. Abe Bernstein took over the company in 1959 and applied his name to it, working there until right before his death in 1997.
Abe Bernstein Clothing is making book on supplying work clothes to employees on Marcellus shale natural gas sites. The extra business helped the third-generation company weather the Great Recession, which crimped sales to construction trades.
“When people are not working, they're not buying work clothes,” said Bernstein, who became head of the company in 1986. “Marcellus shale was a real positive bump for us. And this is not an industry that‘s going to go away in 100 years.”
Until a few years ago, two other South Side companies were the oldest operating in that community. Iron & Glass Bank was founded in 1871 but sold to FNB Corp. in 2008. Marshall Elevator Co. was founded in 1818 but sold to Otis Elevator Co., part of United Technologies Corp., in 2011.
Abe Bernstein Clothing started selling flame-retardant clothing at the end of 2011 to work crews at gas drilling sites and to workers dealing with high-voltage electrical panels.
Flame-retardant clothing is expensive. A coverall costs about $100, and a pair of jeans with long-sleeve T-shirt runs about $150.
“Safety is not B.S. to these guys; they take it seriously,” Bernstein said.
About 20 percent of Abe Bernstein Clothing's revenue comes from walk-in retail sales and 5 percent from online sales. Business-to-business accounts for the other three-quarters.
“We buy upwards of $50,000 a year in product from him,” said Bob Urdzik, purchasing manager for Bay Valley Foods, the Treehouse Foods Inc. unit that operates the former H.J. Heinz plant in the North Side.
“We could buy cheaper product from somebody else, but we go to Bill because they have good-quality products that will last over the years,” Urdzik said. He buys shirts and pants for about 300 workers, including those who need freezer coveralls for working in giant, sub-zero freezers all day.
“They are great professionals, with attention to detail,” said Mike McSorley Jr., director of commercial leasing for Sterling Land Co., a property manager in Oakland that outfits 35 janitors, plumbers and others through Bernstein.
“We were going through a uniform rental company for a long time but found buying them from Bernstein was more cost-effective,” McSorley said.
Abe Bernstein Clothing, whose primary market is within Western Pennsylvania, sells uniforms to such establishments as the Allegheny County Housing Authority and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 154, Bernstein's biggest client.
“We purchase well over 2,000 T-shirts from him every year,” said Raymond Ventrone, business manager for the Beechview-based union. “Whatever we need, he gets for us as fast as he can.”
Abe Bernstein Clothing appeared on the silver screen, its CEO said. Actor Matt Damon wore its boots in the shale-gas movie “Promised Land,” and Bernstein outfitted characters in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The company didn't, however, provide the Caped Crusader's suit.
Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mylan CEO Bresch sets sights on growth
- UPMC buying New Castle-based Jameson Health System
- Pa. considers $300,000 plan to clean polluted site in Kennedy
- Tobacco growers forced to find profits as buyout checks end in October
- UPS expects to hire up to 95K seasonal workers
- American Airlines agents vote to join union
- U.S. Steel to restructure Canadian subsidiary, halt 2 U.S. expansion projects