A conversation with Brian L. George, Proprietor, Northshore Sea Bright
MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ: These days it seems like everything is about Corona. Now the media is feasting on the “second wave” coming soon to a city near you. This article is not all about Corona although it is due to Corona (Thank you, Corona) that I’m writing it. I had to ask, Brian, even though I knew the answer. Corona has not been good for business? I didn’t think so. But in relative Corona terms, it hasn’t been terrible.
Since the dawn of the Coronapocalypse, I have been taking my son to the beach in Sea Bright almost every day, weather permitting, and sometimes even when it isn’t. We often pass Northshore, a high-end men’s clothing store next to Giglio’s Bait Shop on Ocean Ave. across from Rory’s. Each time we did, I took a mental pause. Interesting, I thought. Northshore harkened back to a bygone era, a time not too distant when counted in years but which seemed like ages ago in light of the rapid advance of social media, technology and how we as a society acquire things or how we shop. The other day, it hit me. Northshore is a haberdashery!
In my forties, my early forties, I’m familiar with haberdasheries, at least I was. I remember them at a kid growing up in the City. Perhaps the reason it took me a moment or two to recognize from memory what the younger generation might consider something out of a history book, like a landline or TV that is three-dimensional, is because I hadn’t seen a haberdashery in such a long time and thought they didn’t exist anymore, like a pay phone.
It was only a matter of time until I ran into the proprietor, Brian L. George, a delightful guy. One day, Brian was sitting in his rocking chair in front of Northshore when my son and I walked by. Brian and I struck up a conversation. He invited me to take a look inside. A consummate salesman to be sure. I did, doing my best to keep an eye on my son who was every bit a kid in a candy store, or any store for that matter. I was too but here the candy was high-end clothing not sugary treats in plastic display boxes. There was nothing in between little kid hands covered in strawberry donut frosting and fine linen suits. And I didn’t see a pink one. A few days later, I asked Brian if I could do a piece on him and Northshore. This is how it went:
Ted: I was walking by the other day and it struck me. This is a Haberdashery. You don’t see them anymore. I know you have a website like other retailers big and small but what happened?
Brian: Yes. That’s right. Northshore is a haberdashery. The haberdashery is certainly a throwback to the past and seemingly a dying breed but hopefully, the ones that are still around have some life left in them. It’s interesting. Sad really. There used to be hundreds of haberdasheries in the State. Now there are only a handful. There are two types. There’s the high-end clothing variety and the sportwear variety. We’re both. Also, we do both branded and private label. Perhaps this distinguishes us and gives us some staying power. My private label lines are Twin Lights named after, well, Twin Lights in The Highlands, tailored clothing made in Canada and Navesink Naturals, shirts made in Pennsylvania.
Ted: How did you get into the business? What’s the history of North Shore?
Brian: It goes back a long time. I was in the textile business, working for a company called JP Stevens in New York City where I learned the business, which I’m very thankful for. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the genesis of Northshore. I took an opportunity with the Company in St. Louis and my wife, Eileen, and I relocated there. I was then recruited by the Klopman Mills division of Burlington Industries and relocated back to New York. A year later, I was offered a position with the Company in Chicago. I accepted and we bought a house in the Northshore, which my store is named after. I think it works at the Shore too. Two years later, I was transferred back to New York and we settled in Rumson where we’ve been ever since.
Four after this, I left Burlington to start my own business, Brian L. George & Associates. On one side of the business, I was a consultant to apparel manufacturers, helping them with how and where to buy fabrics. On the other side, I did executive search for these companies. I then decided to start a clothing store, a spin off my consulting practice not to mention boyhood dream. Just quick step back, this is where I come from. One great grandfather was a huckster in Danbury, CT after he arrived from Tripoli, Lebanon in 1896. He sold dry goods door to door. He also had a thriving business selling sandwiches to the Syrian workers in the hat factories in Danbury, the hat making capital of the country at the time. Providing the workers with a taste of home. He was very entrepreneurial. My other great grandfather, from Saghbine, Lebanon, also settled in Danbury. He started a felt factory processing pelts, beaver, rabbit, etc., for hats. So, I guess you’d said clothing, sales, customer service, oh, and starting my own business are in my blood [laughing].
I started with a showroom in Rumson. Soon after, I bought a building close by, renovated it and within a year moved Northshore in. 20 years later, we moved to Sea Bright into what is today Cono’s Pizzeria. We were bursting at the seams and upsized, moving into what was Sea Bright Pharmacy. We were there for eight years and then Sandy. I’ll leave it at that although I’ll mention that our merchandise was found all over town and beyond. My son’s Coast Guard football helmet was found on one of the islands in the Shrewsbury River. Back to the story, the holidays were fast approaching. I needed to act quickly. I opened a pop-up shop back in Rumson for a few months and then moved back to Sea Bright into our current location. The building is 120 years old. It used to be a schoolhouse, another main stay of the past, but unlike us, at least as of now, one well past the point of extinction. It’s quintessential Shore architecture, lots of character, a perfect place for me where I sell signature, bespoke items, which I think have lots of character themselves.
Ted: Quickly, I suppose I should ask, what is the impact of Corona on business?
Brian: It’s interesting. Corona has certainly impacted business but we’re OK. We’re lucky. I’m thankful to our vendors. They have been very supportive. We received all our spring/summer lines on time. The store is filled. Most are our business comes from existing clientele, who know us from Rumson and are very loyal. They are kind enough to venture over the bridge to Sea Bright. A good deal is referral-based. There’s social media and our website of course and you know the old adage: location, location, location. There’s a lot of seasonal foot traffic, which provides a nice pop in sales in the summer. We do a lot of in-person business, people who know us, people who are referred to us and people who are walking down the street in Sea Bright and come in. It’s a different model than some businesses. We really aren’t at limited capacity like a restaurant who has to rely only on take-out and delivery, and coming soon, outdoor dining if they have it. Corona may actually be helping in some ways too – the silver linings we talked about before. It doesn’t look like people are going to be able to move about all that much this summer so what do you do? You go to the beach. Also, chain sporting goods store are closed so people are coming to Giglio’s next door more to get their bait and fishing gear, which hopefully is generating more foot traffic in front of our store.
Ted: Tell me a bit about your clientele. Who is the typical Northshore client?
Brian: Yes, of course. My typical client is socially mobile, the person who worked hard to get to where he/she is. It is someone who appreciates nice things, who wants to live in a certain area and have a certain lifestyle. I will say that in this business, you have to always be a merchant. You have to buy and sell right. You never want to judge a customer by his or her appearance. There’s a saying. The guy who dresses like the gardener owns the estate. Our prices align with what you get. We’re not cheap nor is our clothing. We pride ourselves on providing quality goods sold by courteous professionals at a fair price.