Berk's in North Huntingdon has been making men look good for 100 years
Updated 6 hours ago
From replacing a button on a crisp white dry-cleaned shirt to making that last stitch on a $1,200 custom-made suit, at Berk's Menswear & Tuxedo Shop every detail matters.
That preciseness is a reason the store in North Huntingdon has survived –— and thrived — for 100 years. The four generation, family-owned company is celebrating the century mark all of October.
Current owner Bruce Berk's great-grandfather, Tobias Berkowitz, started the store, followed by grandfather Sam Berk and father Marvin Berk, who turns 87 this month, and still visits the store to shake hands with customers and thank them for their patronage.
Running a family-owned business takes a lot of time away from friends and family and many hours committed to working at night and on weekends, says Bruce Berk, 56. He credits his wife, Debi, for being unwavering in her support and always offering words of encouragement and understanding when something needs to be done for the business.
The store opened in October 1917 in Irwin and moved to its current location along Route 30 in North Huntingdon in 1960. The colorful sign you see today was installed that year. Bruce Berk had planned to update the signage, but customers liked the nostalgia of it, and so he kept it.
Where guys can feel comfortable
While the sign hasn't been altered, the merchandise is continually being updated to keep on top of the latest trends and the highest quality items.
Bruce Berk, who purchased the store from his dad in 1990, says the men who came before him set the tone and established the foundation of not only a store with the latest clothing and stylish accessories, but also a place where guys, and the women who shop for them and with them, can feel comfortable and know they are the number one priority. Some customers just come in to sit and talk and at times have a drink.
“This store is about the customer,” Berk says. “And what they want. This is a great community. It isn't easy keeping up with Amazon and other internet shopping sites. Those other choices are a challenge for an independent like us, but we feel what keeps us going is the way we treat our customers. Every one of them is important.”
Berk devotes time to doing analysis to stay ahead in the fashion industry. He has several lines of suits — custom and off-the-rack in sizes 36 short to 70, as well as sport coats, dress pants, shirts and shoes. Most suits are $425 to $1,000 with custom options available for $1,100 to $1,200. They also sell and rent tuxedos.
Other accessories include shoes, socks, underwear, hats, watches and belts. Accessories are a way for guys to show their personality, from a pair of interesting socks to a bold tie to a statement watch or stylish hat, Berk says.
He also offers merchandise in limited quantities so customers don't see themselves coming and going in the same suit or pair of pants. He searches the latest styles at trade shows in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. Brands he carries include Tommy Bahama, Enro, Calvin Klein, Brandolini, Michael Kors, Petrocelli, Ballin, Brighton, Mission and Tallia. The store also sells Allen Edmonds and Florsheim footwear.
The personal touch
Berk is involved with what's going on in the fashion world, says Don Craig, regional sales manager for Enro dress shirts, based in Cleveland, which is a division of the Apparel Group from the Dallas area.
“He knows his customers by name — it's a personal relationship that makes a difference, treatment you won't get from a big box store,” says Craig, who's been working with Bruce Berk for more than 16 years. “He does social media well and offers a good value. He and the generations before him are part of the history in that area.”
The store's location — outside of the city — is a positive to the store's longevity, says Robert Kelley, distinguished service professor of management at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland. Buying a suit can require a few fittings and having a store in close proximity definitely helps by saving on travel time, Kelley says.
Also, repeat customers are lifelong customers, Kelley says. New customers can be more costly until you learn what they want. You may spend 2½ hours with a new customer but only 30 minutes with a repeat client because you know his style, Kelley says.
“The reason they have survived 100 years is because they are providing some real value to the customer,” Kelley says. “They are doing something the customer likes, and it's something that the customer can't get someplace else with the same level of satisfaction. The key to retail, and any business, is to provide value to the customer — in this case — a combination of quality clothing and a level of service.
“When it comes to good clothing if someone finds something they like, they tend to be loyal. A good tailor makes all the difference. If a guy finds a suit that fits well or gets it tailored to where it fits well, then why shop anywhere else?”
Buzz Bryan of North Huntingdon, who is retired from the military, is one of those repeat customers.
“I like that you can find good, quality clothes that fit well,” Bryan says. “I wore a lot of uniforms in the military, so I needed some good clothes. To me, it's the personalized service you get from everyone who works here. They do it right. They take your measurements so the garment fits perfectly. People know about this place, because if you are good, and they are, people will hear about you.”
Bryan Brown of North Huntingdon, the president of a certified public accounting firm in Pittsburgh, discovered the dry cleaning service at Berk's first.
“I love this store,” Brown says. “They are the best. It's about the personal touch. I came here originally for the dry cleaning, but probably own $10,000 to $15,000 worth of clothing from Berk's, and that's a credit to Bruce, his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, who all worked so hard to make this store a recognizable name in the area. I often get compliments on my suits.”
Getting the proper fit
Berk's has a full-time tailor shop, which is open five days a week. Tailor Linda Kern, who has worked there seven years and has 40 years experience, says Bruce Berk is the “best boss ever.”
“He cares about his customers and his employees,” says Kern of North Versailles. “Customer service is what sets us apart. Not many stores do what we do. For me, when a customer tries on a suit, and it fits perfectly, that makes me happy.”
Having the proper alterations makes all the difference, Bruce Berk says.
“Linda is a real artist who cares about how the customer looks,” Berk says. “A nicely fitted suit is so important. That is the difference from just buying one off the rack.”
The tailor shop encompasses 1,000 square feet and also does work on clothing not purchased at Berk's.
Bruce Berk says he's committed to serving the customer in a timely fashion — even if that means staying overtime in the tailor shop to get a garment properly altered or putting a rush on a dry cleaning order. People who get their clothes tailored and dry cleaned care about how they look, says Berk of Murrysville.
“I love this job,” says Berk, who swept the floor as a little boy. “It's about continuing the legacy of my great-grandfather, grandfather and father. The standard is the standard. ... Whether they need a button on their shirt replaced for that big work presentation or a custom-made suit for that upcoming special occasion in their lives, we want them to look their best, down to the last stitch.”