Jerry Rutledge broke the cardinal rule of many retailers in 2005 when he bought the historic Perkins-Shearer Building at 102 N. Tejon St.
Rutledge's mentor, Joe Bourland, had told him to never buy a building. That way, if the economy failed, he could close shop and save capital.
In November, Rutledge, 69, broke the rule again when he took over the area once occupied by Al's Formal Wear, adding 1,200 square feet to his store. The area is what Rutledge calls "the heart of the main floor."
The expansion has allowed him to "more than double" his selection of men's shoes and also triple the number of Texas-made Lucchese boots, which has manufactured the western-style shoeware since 1883. On Wednesday, a Lucchese representative is scheduled to be at the clothing store's Lucchese boots "trunk shoe" from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rutledge's expansion also allowed him to become a Robert Graham concept store. The New York City-based clothier uses tables made of car hoods inside Rutledge's store to display its men's clothing instead of traditional wooden tables. Rutledge said the changes have increased his business, but he declined to give exact numbers.
"I would love to tell you because we feel great about it," he said. "But I don't want to sound braggadocios because some businesses are still having trouble."
Rutledge opened his first store in 1967 in a leased space near the corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street. Rutledge expanded several times over the next 20 years until his store occupied the entire first floor of the building. In 2006, he moved to the Perkins-Shearer Building against the advice of his mentor, employees, and even his wife.
"She said, 'don't buy that building, every store that has been in there recently has struggled,'" Rutledge said, "and she was right until now."
But buying the building was not as much of a risk for the retailer as many might think. Rutledge had learned the specifics of real estate, including the needed math, decades earlier from his grandfather. As a boy, Rutledge would watch Omer Rutledge buy depressed farmland, increase crop output, and flip the farms throughout his hometown of Moberly, Mo.
Rutledge said taking over the building has recreated it into the beautiful store it once was.
"It is a special place and people are fascinated as to how the addition has changed this store," Rutledge said. "You can see the boots through the windows at night, and that the area sparkles, which is good for all of downtown."
Rutledge's sells clothing ranging from $5 socks to $5,000 custom-tailored suits - and though he's closing in on 70, Rutledge said he's just getting started. He plans to continue expanding his lines of clothing, shoes, boots and accessories. He'll sell his store one day, but not yet.
"I used to play competitive tennis, but I cannot run down all the ones I used to and each year I get worse," Rutledge said. "But this is the one game I can still improve at, and it's a fun game."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275