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Owner cites competition economy for shops' closing



Published: Thu, September 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Founded in 1949, the business will close for good Friday.

THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Almost 10 years ago, Masters Tuxedo was putting Youngstown on the map as the official formal-wear supplier for Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration.

Now, the company is closing.

Mark Jacobson, who bought the three local Masters stores from the original owners in 1998, blames the sluggish local economy and the Mahoning Valley's declining population for the company's demise.

"It's a devastating feeling," he said. "It's a Youngstown institution, and we didn't want to close, but we don't know of anything else we can do. We've tried everything. We have to live by the numbers."

Jacobson said the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last fall and the owners had hoped to reorganize and continue. He said increasing competition, including some from national chains, also contributed to Masters' financial troubles.

The closings will leave 22 Masters employees jobless.

Not all Mahoning Valley dry-cleaning and tuxedo rental businesses are suffering.

Gino and George Rondinelli, owners of Rondinelli Tuxedo Rental and Dutchess Dry Cleaning, told The Vindicator in August that they've seen their business expand dramatically, especially over the past decade.

The Rondinelli brothers recently founded a new division, Alterations Express, bought a wholesale tuxedo business in Boardman, began wholesale formal-wear rental in four states, and opened a dry-cleaning plant in Liberty Township. Their plans call for more store expansion into the Pittsburgh area.

Had 70 stores

Nicholas B. Masters and Andrew J. Krainock opened the first Masters Tuxedo in 1949 on East Commerce Street in downtown Youngstown.

What began as a small shop with 20 tuxedoes grew to be one of the largest tuxedo rental companies in the Midwest.

In 1993, when Masters supplied formal-wear pieces for its third consecutive presidential inauguration, it had 70 outlets in nine states and the District of Columbia. Some of those stores are continuing to operate under the Masters Tuxedo name in the Washington, D.C., area under other owners and are not closing.

Jacobson, a Youngstown native and Austintown Fitch High School graduate, said he spent about 20 years as a Masters employee before he and his wife, Delores, decided to buy its Youngstown, Austintown and Boardman stores.

Jacobson said he began noticing that many area young people who move out of the area are getting married out of the area, a trend that he believes hurt his wedding rental business.

Masters stores had "thousands" of dry-cleaning customers, he said, but not enough to make the business profitable. Prom tuxedo rentals were also down at Masters stores, especially this past spring.

Timing of closings

With winter ahead, traditionally one of the slowest seasons in the formal-wear business, the owners decided it would be best to close now rather than laying off their employees just before Christmas. The Austintown store at 4328 New Road is already closed, the Boardman store at 66 Boardman-Poland Road closes today, and the Youngstown store at 3600 Market St. will close at 6 p.m. Friday.

Dry-cleaning customers must pick up their clothing by the closing time Friday.

Masters will service the weddings it had scheduled for this weekend and next weekend, he said, but couples who had planned to rent formal attire for weddings later this year have been asked to find another supplier.

Jacobson said he and his family have been staffing the two remaining stores and calling customers to make sure they're aware of the closings. Most employees received their final paychecks Tuesday.

He said the company's major creditors will decide whether the store equipment will be sold at auction after the closings.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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