When your family has been running Seattle’s oldest costume and tuxedo rental shop, you have stories.
That would be Brocklind’s, closing Saturday after 106 years, with everything from tuxedos to a gorilla outfit on sale until the doors shut at 6 p.m.
At one point, in the 1990s, there were five Brocklind’s stores in this area. But as business slowed, by 2000 Brocklind’s returned to one main outlet, at 500 E. Pike St.
Back in the mid-1970s, when a group of Seattle revolutionaries calling themselves the George Jackson Brigade were held responsible for 11 bombings and 14 bank robberies, the FBI came by the Brocklind’s in the University District.
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“The FBI had found an abandoned car used in one of the robberies, and in the back seat there was a receipt for makeup bought at our store,” says Jim DeAmbrosio, who, along with his wife, Diane, will be the last to own Brocklind’s.
It was around Halloween, one of the busiest times of the year.
“They were showing me pictures and asking me if I could identify the people.”
DeAmbrosio is 62 and started working at the store at age 22, though even when he was 9 he was helping out his dad on Saturdays by polishing tux rental shoes.
By the way, ever wonder why tux rental shoes are so incredibly shiny? It’s because they’re made out of plastic, and sure, they make your feet sweat.
“But they do look good,” said DeAmbrosio. Right now, out the door, you can have a pair for 10 bucks.
Jim and his brother, Jerry DeAmbrosio, took over the store from their dad, Ray DeAmbrosio, who began working as a salesman in 1932 at the original downtown location at Eighth Avenue and Olive Way.
The dad worked hard and soon was managing the place, and, with a partner, bought it in 1938. He kept the Brocklind’s name, an amalgamation of the last names of the two women who were the original owners — Brockman and Lindeman.
Time for another story.
The 1991 Husky football team that shared the national championship was memorialized in a couple of classic sports posters in which then-coach Don James appeared as a gangster-inspired “Dawgfather,” surrounded by his players.
The second poster, issued for the 1991 homecoming, featured the 12 seniors on the team dressed in tuxedos.
Football players are big.
“Two of them wore size 66,” remembers DeAmbrosio. “We had one in stock and had to special-order the second one.”
The biggest tuxedo the store ever rented? It was a size 76.
“That’s a mountain man. We had to open both doors to let him in,” says DeAmbrosio.
Earlier in the closing sale, which began on Jan. 10, the size 76 went for $50.
Actually, if you can fit into the smaller tuxedo sizes — say a 38 or 40 jacket — there are still some 2,000 remaining for sale. Anything that doesn’t sell by day’s end will be put in storage or possibly wholesaled.
Some go back to the 1920s and are in excellent shape because back then, they were made of much heavier wool fabric. People were smaller then as well.
“In those days, the biggest waist size was 39,” says DeAmbrosio — a measurement many Americans now can only dream about.
For Jim and Diane DeAmbrosio, now seemed a good time to close up.
They have sold the building housing the store to Hunters Capital, a Seattle firm which specializes in preserving historical properties. Among plans it has for the store’s site is a restaurant.
DeAmbrosio says the store was making a profit, but a much smaller one than in previous years. The economics of the business had shifted.
A huge competitor in the tux-rental business is the Men’s Wearhouse, which has 1,239 stores nationwide.
The store’s costume-rental business has also suffered. A few decades ago, Brocklind’s employed six seamstresses who worked on costumes, but in recent years the store has had to compete with cheap Halloween outfits sold online.
So what if that bunny costume from an Internet supplier is flimsy? It’s cheap.
DeAmbrosio held up an Elizabethan jacket that was hand-stitched at his store. With its satin and velvet and heavy stitching, the thing must weigh 5 or 6 pounds.
“You could wear it in a stage production. It’s real clothes,” he says.
A couple of final stories.
Over the years, says DeAmbrosio, he’s gotten three or four calls from the Medical Examiner’s Office stating that a body was found with clothing bearing the Brocklind’s logo.
“Well, you know, one of the things in coming from a wedding, and having too much to drink, are the inevitable consequences,” he says.
And, finally, this from when Margaret “Peg” Parks ran the costume-making part of the store.
In a 1958 story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Parks said she “frequently gets calls from men for fig leafs.”
DeAmbrosio says no such costume was rented or sold in the years he was with the shop. Still, Parks must have been an interesting person to work with.
The story quotes Parks as replying to such fig-leaf inquiries, “Small, medium or large?”
Goodbye, Brocklind’s. You sure made for some special memories.