After almost three-quarters of a century in the men’s clothing business in Toronto, Sam Warner wants to retire.
The 95-year-old Warner still exudes his love of the retail men’s clothing business, but says at his age, with some trouble walking and seeing, “it is time to move on.
“But I can’t retire yet because I still have an inventory of men’s clothing that I have in my home and I have to sell.”
As a young child, Warner, one of six children, had polio, which left him with muscle atrophy. He nevertheless went on to ride a bicycle, and he played baseball and tennis until two years ago.
As a child living through the Depression, Warner sold newspapers. He attended Harbord Collegiate, graduating in 1938. In 1942, after working in a hat factory for four years and saving $800, he decided to open his own menswear business.
His first store, located at 225 Queen St. W., was known as Samuel’s Clothing. After moving to a few different locations on Queen Street, he changed the name of the business to Hollywood Clothing Jobbers.
“The area went from a dump with dirty bookstores and bookies everywhere to a trendy street,” Warner said.
When the property was sold, he took in a partner and moved to John Street, near the Art Gallery of Ontario. When his partner retired eight years ago, Warner closed the business, giving part of the stock to charity and moving the rest to his home.
Warner continued to go on buying trips and said he still gives his personal service to his customers.
In an interview with The CJN, the articulate nonagenarian looked back to the war years when new merchandise was difficult to obtain, as it was directed to the armed forces. For the duration of the war, his business sold second-hand merchandise, he said.
“After the war, we could purchase new merchandise, and I was able to buy out special deals.”
With joie de vivre, Warner recalled many of the colourful events that happened in his business, such as the time three men came into his store and bought clothing. “I later found out that they were prisoners of war and had escaped.”
He also told of an obese man who ordered a suit and came back and bought 135 suits. His clientele included, among others, lawyers and government officials, and he provided costumes for many theatrical productions.
“About half of my clientele today are haredim from Lakewood, N.J., who come for black suits and designer white shirts.”
He has supported a synagogue and charities in Cuba and travelled to Cuba annually for many years
Warner has three children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He was accompanied to the interview by his daughter, Ellen Warner, an oncologist at Sunnybrook Hospital.
“Probably, one of the most important things my father taught me,” his daughter said, “is just because everyone believes something, it doesn’t mean it is correct. Therefore, I’m a researcher and I do not take things at face value. I look at how people are being treated and find out how we can improve what we are doing.
“My father is passionate about social justice and he is the least materialistic person I know. He is totally unselfish and he has always been devoted to his family, his customers and the world.”