Hundreds line up in bad weather for closing of 135-year-old clothing business in North Dakota

FARGO, N.D. – For more than 135 years, the best-dressed men in eastern North Dakota have likely bought their suits and ties from a business that has spanned four generations of owners and once had locations in several cities. No more: The last Straus Clothing store is calling it quits.

Hundreds of loyal customers braved 50 mph winds and icy roads Thursday to participate in the first day of the final sale, which will end when the clothes are gone. Some of them showed up just to bid farewell to brothers John and Rick Stern, who own the last store, which is in Fargo. Now in their mid-60s, the Sterns have decided it’s time to retire from the grueling world of retail sales.

John Stern, dressed in a grey suit and cruising around the store with his familiar tape measure around his neck, said the days leading up to this were difficult, but he felt better to be among the masses.

“Yesterday I was feeling pretty crummy,” he said. “Today is much better.”

Young and old stood in line to buy clothes. Alex Linn, 20, is a third-generation Strauss shopper who said his grandfather, Roger Linn, was considered a VIP customer.

“My grandfather was always a well-dressed man, very sharp, and all the employees knew him by name,” Linn said. “I just had to come here today.”

John Q. Paulsen, 87, has been shopping at the store for more than 60 years. He said he understands why the Sterns are ready to close the doors.

“Retail is a tough business. It’s six days a week and working nights,” Paulsen said. “I can understand that they’ve had enough and I am happy for them. But it’s a loss for all of us. Stores like Strauss are few and far between.”

Another longtime customer, Dan Armbrust, said it’s a sad day because the store and the Stern family have been mainstays in the community.

The operation started in 1879 when Adolph Sternberg opened a clothing store in Sanborn, and later moved the store to Valley City. His cousin, M.G. Straus, later took over the operation and hired his nephew, Herman Stern, to run it. Stern did that for seven decades.

Stern was a successful businessman and humanitarian who founded what is now the Greater North Dakota Chamber and was instrumental in helping his friends and family escape Nazi Germany. He eventually turned the clothing operation over to his son, Ed, who opened a store in downtown Fargo in the late 1930s. Eddie, as he was known to regulars, also was a civic leader who founded the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation.

John and Rick Stern, Ed’s sons, say Strauss is the oldest family-owned retail business in the upper Midwest. Many of the workers have been with them for decades.

Don Hovden, an assistant manager, has been an employee for more than 37 years.

“We’ve all been here a long time,” Hovden said while taking a break from measuring a customer for a suit. “Just looking around to see all these great people come into the store today, it’s just incredible. But it’s also a sad time.”

Customer John Marsh, 64, called it the end of an era — and the end of convenience for him because he really doesn’t like shopping for clothes.

“It is nice when you go in, they know you, and they know what you wear,” Marsh said. “They throw some clothes on you and you get out the doors.”