Sunday, May 19, 2024

I. Bell’s Clothing to close after 101 years of business in Ottawa

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Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jay McCracken was asked Tuesday to describe I. Bell’s Clothing in downtown Ottawa.

“Iconic,” he said.

The men’s clothing store at 603 La Salle St. has operated for 101 years, selling suit jackets, pants, ties and other dress clothes, but recently owner Pat Graham announced he was retiring after 45 years and closing his shop.

“I congratulate them on their retirement,” McCracken said, adding that he was wearing a suit jacket from Bell’s on Tuesday. “They will be greatly missed.”

McCracken’s bittersweet words have been echoed often since Graham’s announcement. Graham, his wife Janet, brother Mike and other workers were preparing the shop Tuesday for a closing sale and retirement celebration to begin Wednesday.

A customer left Tuesday with a suit on a hanger, zipped up in a protective cover in his hand.

“Congratulations, Pat,” he said.

The 74-year-old Graham smiled.

“It’s been like this since we made the announcement,” he said. “It’s been very positive. We’ve always had a good clientele.”

A century ago, Bell’s Clothing opened when Irving Bell saw the need for a new men’s clothing store downtown. Bell, known as Israel Kubelsky when he immigrated to the U.S. from Lithuania in 1913, escaped a pre-World War I Europe at the behest of his mother to work at his uncle’s haberdashery in Waukegan. According to a March 2010 Times Newspaper article, he lived with his first cousin, famous early-radio era comedian Jack Benny. Bell bought the store from Joe Richards, when Richards moved West.

Bell’s partner, Leo Thompson, bought into the store two or three years after Bell opened and worked there until 1983, after Graham had bought in with Paul Baker. Graham became a partner with Paul Baker in 1978. Baker, now 96 years old, had retired in the 1990s, leaving Graham solely in charge.

Graham told The Times in a previous story that he shopped at Bell’s Clothing when he was a child and had a charge account there by the time he was 12 years old. He knew the store and became good friends with Baker.

“I was working for Bill Walsh at the time and Paul called me up and said, ‘Hey, I know you’ve always been interested in the business,’ and asked if I wanted to come down and bridge him out,” Graham said at the time. “That’s what he wanted and when I came down, we bought them out and went on from there for a long time.”

Graham said Tuesday that the store has been good to him, providing for he, his wife and six children.

“We had a great life from it,” Graham said. “All my kids worked in the store.”

Graham said he is looking forward to traveling and spending time with his grandchildren. His wife Janet especially noted it’ll be nice for Pat not to have to rush home from work to mow the lawn before it turns dark.

“It’s time. I love what I did. I did it for 45 years,” Graham said. “I just want to tell everyone thanks for all the support for all the years.”

The store will begin its closeout sale Wednesday, selling off its inventory. Go to https://www.facebook.com/BellsClothing for updates on hours for its final days.

I. Bell's Clothing store in downtown Ottawa is closing.

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