Inside Hubert White, Downtown’s Retail Survivor
Covid-19 delivered a fatal punch to many retailers in downtown Minneapolis, especially ones that catered to office-goers. Nordstrom Rack, Banana Republic, Marshalls, Brooks Brothers, Saks Off 5th, and other clothing sellers exited over the last three years, but Hubert White, a third-generation family business, is a survivor. It’s still selling high-end men’s clothing and shoes from the IDS Center.
“Retailers aren’t going to [come back] until there is a critical mass of office people.”
—Bob White, CEO/Owner Hubert White
“We are in the relationship business,” says Bob White, CEO and owner. “We know the people walking in the door.” He does not depend on strangers making impulse buys, but a customer base that seeks him out whether they still work downtown or not. “It’s people who have done well, want to look good, have a reason to look good, either personal or businesswise.”
White, who has been at Hubert White since 1973, has watched downtown Minneapolis evolve over many economic cycles. Since the store moved into the IDS Center in 2000, he’s had an excellent perch to observe the behavior of businesses, office workers, shoppers, and visitors. “Retailers aren’t going to [come back] until there is a critical mass of office people,” White says. “So the first question would be: When will the Dayton’s Project be able to fill that space they have?”
“But it’s not necessarily a retail question,” he says. “It’s an occupancy and then safety question. If those two things are [moving] in the right direction, everything else is going to follow.”
White acknowledges that downtown Minneapolis has been hurt economically because of public safety concerns. “I think the cops have done a tremendous job,” he says. “They don’t always get the support of the courts or the politicians, but they’re doing a good job. There’s more to be done.” And, he says downtown will be safer “when there are more 9-to-5 office people walking around.”
Despite good fundamentals, White was aware he needed to shift his business strategy. He’s offering more casual clothing and operating with fewer staff members and reduced hours. He says business was good in 2022. “Dress clothing, meaning suits and sport coats, are really on the upswing,” noting that dress attire outsold casual in 2022.
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Hubert White offers clothing lines not broadly available elsewhere, but White stresses that clients have trusted relationships with his sales staff, who “have in excess of 100 years of experience,” and, he says, he employs the finest tailor in the Twin Cities. White says he’s not yet back to pre-Covid sales but is encouraged about the future, if not for downtown, at least for his little corner of it.