Bill Kurtz opened his Willam Kurtz Ltd. men’s clothing store a quarter century ago at 10 E. Pikes Peak Ave. in downtown Colorado Springs, carrying on a tradition that began nearly four decades earlier at the same location by the London Shop, also a men’s clothier.
Now, it’s Kurtz’s turn to end his lengthy run at the Pikes Peak Avenue storefront — though he’s staying in business with a change of name, focus and location.
Kurtz plans to close his clothing store in late July and has contracted to sell the three-story building that houses his business to an as-yet unidentified buyer; the deal is supposed to be completed July 23. Over many years, the 120-year-old, nearly 6,900-square-foot building had been home to a hotel, furrier, dressmaking shop and other businesses, said Kurtz, based on his research of the property.
His background in men’s clothing dates to 1981, when he and a brother owned the downtown Cat’s Pajamas Formalwear store.
Kurtz later worked at the London Shop for a year and then for a decade at Rutledge’s, another downtown men’s clothier, before he launched William Kurtz Ltd. in 1995. He sells fine suits, sport coats, pants, shirts and other items, along with casual and sportswear from popular brands such as Tommy Bahama and Cutter & Buck.
“A little bit of everything,” said the 61-year-old Kurtz.
His decision to close his store is unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Instead, over the last six to seven years, 95% of his business has evolved from walk-in sales to custom clothing, Kurtz said.
He takes measurements at his store and sends them to a company where a garment is made. The clothing comes back to his store, where he’ll do a final fitting with the customer, relying on a tailor to make adjustments. Or, since he’s “learned a few things” after being in the clothing business since 1981, Kurtz will do the final touches.
“Most of the guys, customers now aren’t necessarily just running in to buy a suit off the rack,” he said. “They’re not wearing nearly as many suits as they did years ago. They want to do something a little bit more special for themselves. So buying a custom suit that’s just purely made for them, they look and feel better and that’s kind of where it’s just gone to.”
Kurtz now plans to focus exclusively on custom work and therefore won’t need as much retail space, prompting the sale of his Pikes Peak Avenue building. He’s rebranding his business as Kurtz Custom Clothing and plans to open a smaller office in downtown.
As a custom clothier, Kurtz said he can work with customers online or over the phone for their needs, sending them a swatch of fabric to help them make their decisions.
“I have people, which is really wonderful, all across the country anymore, where they’ve stopped in the store either on vacation or business,” he said. “We’ve done custom clothing for them. Now they just call me and say ‘I need a new suit, send me some swatches.’ And we do it over the phone. That’s the best part about it and that’s what really helped with this decision about leaving an actual building.”
That building also had been home to the London Shop, whose well-known owner, Howard Sheldon, had been a fixture for decades downtown in the men’s clothing industry. The London Shop occupied the building for 37 years until Sheldon retired in May 1995; Kurtz took over the space for his business a few months later and bought the building in 2000.
Sheldon, who died in 2004, had a reputation for a personal touch with customers and a keen knowledge of the men’s clothing industry.
“Howard had been in Colorado Springs forever,” Kurtz said. “He was a mentor of mine. A wonderful man.”
Kurtz said his Pikes Peak Avenue location made him a “side streeter” — a business just off the Tejon Street retail and restaurant corridor that runs the length of downtown.
Though his building isn’t on Tejon, it’s still positioned close to downtown’s booming growth, which includes the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and multiuse stadium a few blocks to the south. Several hotels and apartment projects also are underway downtown, which is poised to welcome visitors who’ve never frequented the area, Kurtz said.
“They’re facing the excitement, and I think that’s awesome,” Kurtz said of his building’s new owners. “To me, that would have been the biggest selling point. They get to see this front and center. I’d love that for them. For whoever buys this store, when they move in, they’re going to see so many changes coming up.”
Kurtz said it will be “incredibly sad” when he closes his retail store and leaves the building. Yet he won’t look back, either.
“When you walk in the door everyday for 25 years, to walk out one last time is absolutely going to be brutal on me,” he said.
“But it gives me a new opportunity. I’ve always described this place or anything you do in life as a vehicle to get you to where you want to go for your next step. And if you can do that, and keep that in your mind, there’s no sad moments because you know the next step is going to be better.”