After 57 years of business, Dick Bruhn, a retail store, is going

A mainstay of Gilroy’s once thriving historic business district
has closed its doors after 57 years.
Gilroy – A mainstay of Gilroy’s once thriving historic business district has closed its doors after 57 years.

The windows of Dick and M’Lady Bruhns clothing store on Monterey Street went dark this week after years of outfitting local families with everything from prom tuxedos to gym outfits and sports jackets. Along with its Gilroy store, the Bruhn family also shuttered stores in Hollister, Monterey and Salinas.

“We’re very sad to have to leave Gilroy and the other stores we have to close,” said Susie Shirakow, the daughter of founder Dick Bruhn. “Right now the family is very sad to have to be doing this.”

She could not elaborate on the reasons for the closings, and no one answered calls to the company’s headquarters in Salinas. At one point, the company had stores in Carmel, King City and Watsonville, though those began closing down successively nearly a decade ago, according to Joan Lewis, a local planning commissioner who worked 18 years as the company’s buyer of women’s clothing.

“You know, little mom and pop stores nowadays don’t do so well when you have big box stores come in and take over,” Lewis said. “In small stores you get one-on-one help. That’s one of the things that Dick Bruhn’s was known for all these years. We always took care of the customer and made sure they were cared for.”

Dick Bruhn’s originally opened 1950 at 7541 Monterey St. The store added a women’s section, known as M’Lady Bruhns, in the late seventies.

The clothier saw its heyday in the ’80s, when hundreds of people thronged downtown Gilroy on “moonlight sales nights” and store clerks wore night gowns. The city shut down Monterey Street for the event.

“There were so many people in the downtown you couldn’t move,” Lewis recalled. “They would park clear on Church Street to go to these sales.”

In those days, Monterey Street remained the city’s main shopping destination. Local shoe stores such as Mr. Art’s and Rizzuto’s thrived, and even national retailer J.C. Penny operated a store at the corner of Fifth and Monterey streets. Today, the shoe stores have disappeared and the former home of J.C. Penny’s is occupied by a recently opened medical center for low-income families.

The onset of downtown’s decline is often linked to the opening of the Gilroy Premium Outlets in the early ’90s, and economic pressure on local businesses only increased this decade with the addition of Costco and other big box stores off Highway 152.

But competition was not the deciding factor in the family’s decision to shut down, according to Mayor Al Pinheiro, who learned of the closure two weeks ago from a company representative.

“Any downtown has to deal with all the other impacts that communities have,” Pinheiro said, referring to the arrival of new competition. “I believe that they could have survived downtown, but that’s their decision.”

Pinheiro said the decision was made by a company board of directors to “change directions,” but could not elaborate further. A family spokesperson did not return a call for comment late Tuesday.

It remains unclear if the Bruhn family plans to sell the building or redevelop it. The site is one of roughly 30 downtown buildings tagged as an earthquake hazard, and city regulations prevent a new occupant from using the site without first upgrading it to modern safety standards.

For the moment, the store remains outfitted with the last of its merchandise. The family plans to hold a May 18 clearance sale of neatly packaged dress shirts, sports jackets and other clothes still hanging on walls and racks.

The Bruhns handed down their contract to distribute Selix tuxedos to Mafalda’s Bridal Gowns and Accessories, a half block south on the corner of Monterey and Fifth streets. The tuxedo business was a reliable income source for Bruhn’s, which rented nearly 300 tuxedos a year for high school proms, according to owner Mafalda Freitas.

The Portuguese immigrant has had a store downtown for a decade and, until a few months ago, rented space in Bruhn’s building. Inheriting the tuxedo business inspired bittersweet emotions in Freitas, who now has the bridal and tuxedo market cornered in downtown.

“I’ve been here 35 years and when I came, Dick Bruhn’s was here already,” she said. “It’s very sad to have a store like that close after so many years.”

As Michael Gregorio strolled down Monterey Street Tuesday with his wife, he recalled fond memories of Dick Bruhn’s.

“I rented a tux there once. They were really good to me,” he said,

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