5 Star Stories: Lansky Brothers — the ‘Clothier to the King’
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - This 5 Star Story is about a family business that’s been going strong for 76 years. Lansky Brothers are called the “Clothier to the King” but Action News 5 found out, it’s much more than that.
The Lansky brothers didn’t plan to be fashion leaders back in 1946 when they first opened at 126 Beale Street. Hal Lansky is the second generation to run the business started by his father, Bernard and his brother, Guy and shared how it all started.
“At that time, 1946, the war was over and a lot of people don’t know this, but, Memphis was home to the Army Depot -- it was the largest Army Depot in America. So the war is over. They started buying Army cots, Army fatigues, pants -- it was opened up as an Army Surplus,” he explained.
But a couple of years in and army supplies ran low.
“So, they needed something to sell so my dad went to New York, he went to California and started bringing in the looks,” said Hal.
Sitting amongst the bars and blues clubs on historically Black Beale Street, the Lansky Brothers sold “hip” clothes -- becoming the city’s fashion headquarters for musicians and the fashion savvy and defining the iconic look of “The King of Rock and Roll.”
“In the 50′s we were the first people to bring, we like to take credit for, the Black and pink colors of the 50′s the beautiful peg leg pants was 50′s, skinny belts. We were the first to have all that,” said Hal.
And as he recalled, it was the hallmark of Elvis’ look at that time.
“And of course the 60′s we brought in the Mod look. And I’ll never forget when I was in junior high. The talk of the town was -- we ran an ad with a young man wearing a shirt that was balloon sleeves and the title said, ‘Get funky with Lansky’s.’ And oh my God, it was like we said a bad word!” Hal exclaimed.
The Lansky Brothers’ reputation went worldwide after the brothers spied a young man gawking at the window display back in 1952.
“And my daddy invited this young man in, he said, ‘C’mon in young man, let me show you around.’ And this young man looked up at my dad, he said, ‘Mr. Lanksy, I don’t have any money but one of these days, imma come and buy you out.’ My dad said, ‘Don’t buy me out, just buy from me,’” recalled Hal.
That young man was then 17-year-old Elvis Aaron Presley who worked near the Lansky’s store.
“On Fridays, he’d come in and maybe one Friday he’d buy a pair of pants for a $1.95. The next week he’d come in and maybe buy a cap for 50 cents and he just started coming in and coming in and one day he came and said, ‘Mr. Lansky, Mr. Lansky, I’m gonna be on national TV. I’m gonna be on national TV!’ My dad said, ‘That’s great, Elvis! What show?’ And he said, ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ And of course, 45 years after his death, he’s still paying us back with his, with all the fans coming from throughout the world to visit our store. People want to come to Lansky’s -- they wanna come to the store where Elvis shopped,” said Hal.
Today, the Lansky Brothers can be found in the Peabody Hotel -- not far from the store’s original location.
“You know, 1980 Mr. Jack Belz said to my dad, ‘Bernard, can you do me a favor? Can you open a little store in ... the Peabody?’ And we opened a little tie shop at the front of the store,” said Hal.
Forty years later and the Lansky’s now operate four different stores in the hotel that include two gift shops, as well as a women’s store and a third generation of the Lansky line -- Hal’s daughter, Julie.
“The Women’s side of our business started in 2001, coincidentally, when I was getting out of college and we just wanted a place where women always came into the Men’s shop and ‘Well, what about us?’” said Julie.
The women’s store, like the men’s side of things, is fashion-forward.
“But it’s fun. It’s things you can wear to parties now that everyone’s going out again. It’s casual wear, it’s a little bit of everything. Gifts, Memphis-themed gifts, Peabody Hotel gifts, and unique, unique things that you can’t get everywhere,” she added.
And, like her dad, Hal, Julie began working in Lansky’s at a young age.
“And I was very fortunate because my grandfather for the first, probably, eight or nine years, I was able to work with my grandfather. He taught me how to talk to people and how to sell, and my dad taught me how to, you know, do the business side of it. You know, marketing and just the buying and all that,” Julie recalled.
As for the future of Lansky Brothers, Julie said they’ll continue to stay on trend, unique, creative and local.
“We love seeing our friends from the city come in to see what we’re still doing all these years,” said Julie.
“It’s a happy place to work,” said Hal. “We meet interesting people from all over the world and we’re just trying to keep my dad’s legacy alive.”
Also for sale in Lansky’s besides fun and fashionable clothes and knick-knacks, are also two books that are filled with photos and illustrations and the Lansky Brother’s story: “Lansky Brothers: Clothier to the King” and “Come On In, Young Man!” both of which can be bought in the Lansky stores.
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