“There is no economic reason for this business to exist,” says Richard Seitchik, the owner of W. Seitchik & Sons, the last wholesaler of men’s suits in Philadelphia.
When his grandfather founded the company in 1898, Philadelphia dominated the men’s clothing business in America. Seitchik, now 82, came to work for the family business in 1963 when it operated out of a nine-story building at 19th and Allegheny. The North Philadelphia neighborhood was dotted with factories that turned out everything from fishing reels to porch swings. Seitchik & Sons had so many orders that it employed 375 people, all of them unionized.
But by the ’70s, the world had started to change. Not only were man’s fashions becoming more casual, foreign factories were gaining market share. With its high union salaries, Seitchik & Sons found it difficult to compete with low-wage factories in Asia. America’s tariff structure didn’t help. Import duties favored Southern cloth mills over Northern manufacturers. By 1999, the situation had become untenable. Unable to compete with foreign manufacturers, Seitchik & Sons shut its factory and reinvented itself into a clothing importer, trading as Harmony suits.
Today the company employs just 11 people in its warehouse in Northeast Philadelphia, and its old building has been converted into a self-storage facility. Seitchik says he remains in business out of loyalty to his employees -- all unionized -- who have been with the company for decades.
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