Kitting out for the Big Apple in the Hub City

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This Christmas, I shall head to Manhattan – also known as Mecca to the world’s fashionistas – with she who must be observed (occasionally obeyed), the love of my life, my wife. So, naturally, we must head first to a small, wood-lined men’s clothier situated amidst brickyards, farm equipment dealers and drive-through coffee purveyors on a stretch of Moncton’s industrial west end.

“You’re kidding, right?” I whine one recent August morning. “What’s wrong with the two jackets I bought last year from Value Village? Together, they cost me a grand total of 15 bucks. One of them even looks like a Harris Tweed.”

Undeterred, she retorts, “Nothing looks like a Harris Tweed, except a Harris Tweed. Trust me, this guy has a great reputation. He knows his stuff.”

The guy, as it turns out, is Jeff Garcia, a slim, elegantly dressed man in his 40s (I’d guess) and the proprietor of Zachary Samuels (named, he says, after his two university-ensconced kids). Over the years, he has worked for the biggest, high-end chains in the business. For the past few, though, he’s preferred to run his own shop, which is as bespoke as the apparel, services and advice he proffers. In short, this guy does, indeed, know his stuff.

Casting his critical, yet still kind, eye over my torso, he says, “That lavender shirt you’re wearing is a good colour on you. . .only. ..well, it’s obviously too large for your frame. You’ll have to hit the mashed potatoes if you want it to fit properly.”

I begin to explain that it is a medium size, before he whips out a couple of truly fine garments and escorts me to the changing room. I’m skeptical. For years, I’ve been wearing Marks. I own so many items of clothing from that venerable warehouse that, if they were fungible in dollar bills, I could buy a new mattress (to, you know, hold my money).

But, Mr. Garcia is right, after all. The shirts are marvelous and, in them, I look fabulous (my wife’s words). “What’s next?” I ask gleefully.

Grabbing a sport coat, he says, “Give this a try.” It’s a navy wool-cotten blend, short cut and tailored slim. “Oh,” my love enthuses. “I like that.” Mr. Garcia is not so sure. “Please stand over here,” he says as he directs me to a raised platform in front of a mirror. “I think I’ll take it in along the sides, and maybe raise the sleeves a bit.” He proceeds with his pins, and I catch my wife grinning at the spectacle of her husband playing dress-up. Willingly!

In the end, I walk out having spent less than I deserve. And this, I realize, is the essence of superior customer service. Nothing beats true quality. And quality is all about research, experience and attention to detail.

I think about this as we drive down the street to pick up a bag of loose charcoal for our backyard smoker. Walmart is reinventing its one-size-fits-all retailing model for Moncton, just as Target sets its sights on The Northwest Centre mall. Neither, it’s safe to say, gives a sweet bippy about the drape or wove or stitching of the shirts it sells. Nor do they care about the fact that their global supply chains and economies of scale routinely murder independent businesses in cities and towns across North America just like this one. They will discount sacks of BBQ fuel just to keep me coming back for vinyl shoes, imported from Malaysia, fitted for my grand kids.

But not today.

At Maritime Fireplaces, congenial havoc rules the showroom, where staff happily navigate between customers, pellet-stove distributors and Big Green Egg grill sellers. Plates of hot dogs, burgers and cakes fill the crannies and crevices between winter stoves. The mood is festive; the atmosphere, thick with merriment.

“Are you an ‘egg head’?” a salesman asks about my outdoor culinary technology. “I am, indeed, and ever since 2009,” I reply cheerily.

“Well, then take a couple of these,” he instructs as he stuffs some branded cup holders into my hands. “You can never have too many of these.”

No you can’t, I muse. You can never have too much of a good thing, whether it’s Manhattan or, more durably, Moncton.

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