Ken Crumpler has a knack for remembering the details. In his line of work, details are important.
He’s sold men’s clothing for 54 years, 17 of those at Chancellor’s on Broadway, where he’s celebrating his retirement today. Co-worker Elliott Waddell said Crumpler can recall the measurements and sizes for regular customers.
“He keeps it up here. It’s amazing,” he says, tapping his head. “He knows everything from how to fit someone to what’s right on a person. He’s the dean of men’s clothing.”
Ask him how he remembers and the 68-year-old Crumpler shrugs.
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“Some things you remember easier than other things, for whatever the reason,” he says.
He points to storefronts downtown, listing the names of businesses that have come and gone. The Subway on Broadway used to be a J.C. Penney, where Crumpler got his first job in 1958 when he was 15 and still a student at Columbus High. He began in the menswear department, but also worked in shoes for a while during the Easter season.
“Ladies shoes, men’s shoes, children’s shoes,” he says. “Fitting a size 12 foot in a size 6 pump is not the easiest thing in the world.”
The Skateboard Shop at 1115 Broadway used to be Clason’s Optical, where his father worked. His grandmother worked at Kirven’s Department Store, also on Broadway between 11th and 12th Streets. The family had one car, so they rode to work together.
If you wanted something to eat, there was The Georgia Grill. The Palace Pool Hall on 12th Street had the best scrambled dogs, he says.
During the Christmas season -- and back then it was the Christmas season, not the holiday season, he emphasizes -- the windows at Kirven’s lit up with Christmas decorations.
“Everything that went on in Columbus went on, on Broadway,” he says.
Watching downtown change
The streets and sidewalks were more crowded than they are today.
“There are not anywhere near as many people. The sidewalk out there was like going to Columbus Square Mall at Christmas time.”
Watching downtown change was like “watching something die and then rejuvenate and morph into something different than it originally was,” he says.
Fashions have changed a lot, too, since Crumpler started working.
“You didn’t go outside without a coat and a tie on,” he says. “Women wore hats and gloves and dresses.”
On Monday, Crumpler helped Eddie Oliver pick out two new suits. Oliver, a pastor at Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church, says he’s been coming to Chancellor’s for suits for five years.
“He knows my size and knows what I like and tells me what’s best,” he said. “He gives me the right advice.”
Crumpler has worked in several different stores -- Penney’s, Kirven’s, B. Young’s and now Chancellor’s -- but regardless of the store or the year, the three basics needed for every man’s wardrobe remain the same: a navy blue blazer, a white shirt and a charcoal suit.
“If you don’t have that, you don’t know how to dress,” he says.
Casual Friday a bad idea
Later he adds, “Casual Friday was a horrendous little endeavor.”
“Tell me exactly what you want your banker to do with your money that is casual. And multi-tasking only enables you to screw up more than one thing at a time,” he says, as he finishes filling out paperwork for an order.
Though a number of mens’ clothing shops have been replaced by department stores and Internet retailers, Crumpler says he still sees his share of young people coming into Chancellor’s. He counts silently, folding down one finger at a time and figures that he’s working with his fourth generation of customers. “And their daddies and granddaddies and great-granddaddies.”