Boyds co-owner Jeff Glass took one look at the first and second floors after the fire at the Center City clothier Nov. 30 and thought the damage was minimal.

All of the pricey inventory - mostly designer suits for men, and dresses and coats for women - was intact. Other than some water damage to the women's area on the third level, it looked as if the venerable store at 1818 Chestnut St. had gotten off easy.

But Glass then took the elevator to the fourth floor, and when the doors opened, he could smell the fire damage that destroyed the big and tall section and customer pickup area, also known as will call.

Worse, he walked up one more level to the famous fifth floor - home to 32 tailors whose craftsmanship has become the Boyds trademark - and saw it was destroyed. His heart sank. The other part of the floor, housing the accounting and executive offices, also was gutted.

In the tailor shop, water, soot, and broken glass were everywhere, Glass said. The pipes, sewing machines, and flooring were immersed in at least a foot of water.

"The fire took out our infrastructure, tailoring, accounting, and management," he said. "Tailoring is the backbone of the business. We can't function without it.

"It's why the store closed for a week for the first time in its 75-year history," said Glass. Glass' wife, Lisa, is the sister of Ken Gushner, president of the company that operates the luxury retailer. They are grandchildren of Alexander Gushner, who started Boyds in 1938 as a small shirt store.

Fire investigators said the fire originated in the tailor shop. Smoke and flames activated the sprinkler system, which caused the extensive water damage to the fourth and fifth floors.

The cause of the fire has not been determined by Philadelphia investigators. Insurance adjusters are telling Boyds' management that insulation for the steam pipes dried up over the years and likely caught fire.

The blaze and water caused more than $5 million in damaged clothing, said Glass, while the weeklong closure immediately after the fire caused an additional $1 million in lost business.

The day after the fire, Glass, sales associates, and customer service staff began calling 700 customers who had suits affected by the fire. Their clothing was either in the tailor shop waiting to be altered or in the will-call room to be picked up. Glass said they were offered full refunds or store credits to re-select clothing.

Dan Hessel, 45, a Center City personal-injury lawyer, lost four suits in the tailor shop. He found out about the fire on Twitter the day it happened.

"I got the call that my suits were lost," he said. One was a holiday party suit for Thursday.

Hessel was at Boyds on Tuesday getting measured for new suits with master tailor Sergio Martins and salesman John Clementi.

"Boyds has been extremely gracious and cooperative through this process," Hessel said.

Glass said "99 percent" of affected customers had been supportive, like Hessel.

As the company tries to get back on track, Glass is working with insurance companies to recoup the $5 million-plus in lost clothing and rebuild the tailor shop.

Men's suits at Boyds range in price from $500 to $5,000. Men's clothing, which includes shirts, ties, sportswear, and accessories, accounts for 75 percent of the business; women's apparel makes up 25 percent.

Glass said that last year, Boyds grossed more than $30 million in sales.

The clothing store, which has 65,000 square feet, reopened Dec. 7. Last week, Glass said 30 percent of customers affected by the fire had returned to the store to pick out new clothing.

Other regulars also are returning.

"They sell quality stuff," said Gertis Palmer of West Oak Lane, who has been shopping at Boyds since 1957, when it was at 1217 Market St., across from what is now the Convention Center and the Marriott.

Glass said eminent domain forced the move to Chestnut, near Rittenhouse Square, in 1990 because the city needed the land for the Marriott.

"We had a huge week last week with the holidays and our reopening," he said.

As Glass spoke, he showed off an email on his iPhone from a loyal customer: Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who asked Glass to ship him six dress shirts for the holidays.

The last two weeks since the fire have been a game of musical chairs for the tailors and office personnel.

Glass likened Boyds' tailor shop "to the equivalent of a mini-factory in Europe."

"Tailoring is a dying art," he said. "What we have doesn't exist anywhere else in the United States. It's special."

A clear sign of renewed life for Boyds came Wednesday morning with the arrival of a $17,500 computerized buttonhole machine made in Japan, assembled in Tennessee, and shipped to the store to replace the one destroyed in the fire. It was humming by 11 a.m.

Customized buttonholes meant one thing: Boyds was back in business.

215-854-4184@SuzParmley