At 75, Abe Mandel was looking dapper as ever in a gray suit and black pinstripe tie as he kicked off the closing-out sale for A Man's Image, the South Philadelphia men's clothing store that he built into a neighborhood institution.

Thursday was the first day of half-off deals on almost everything in the store. Mandel needs to meet an end-of-June deadline to empty the space completely for a new restaurant moving in.

"We have to move goods out of here and fast," Mandel said, overlooking the steady stream of customers. He knew most by their first names.

Mandel is used to having to move merchandise quickly to make room for new seasonal inventory, but this was different: This was to make way for his retirement after 60 years of selling men's clothing.

Mandel joked the night before that he wanted to look his best, as if he were going to a funeral. But it was the beginning of the rest of his life.

Mandel was checking out to "enjoy my golden years, travel and just enjoy life" with his wife of 47 years, Susan, 68.

Mandel has been logging in 70-hour work weeks as long as he could remember. Selling is in his veins.

In 1953, at age 12, he started working for his uncle Izzy at a flea market in Yardville, N.J. Mandel was the stock boy who sold, straightened out and watched his uncle "do his thing" on weekends.

His parents were Jewish immigrants who pursued the American dream and settled in South Philadelphia. They lived on Seventh and Mercy, on top of a men's clothing store.

In 1956, Mandel started working for his father, who bought a building at Seventh and McKean Streets, and made it into the family's men's clothing store.

"That's how I started and never stopped," Mandel said.

"I was like a clothing maven who could tell someone's size and weight on the spot, and tell them which manufacturers cut [clothes] in a way that made their bodies look good," Mandel said.

Hence, he got the nickname, "Dr. Abe." One of the doctor's sayings: "Don't buy clothes that you like. Buy clothes that like you."

In 1968, Mandel branched out on his own, with his own store, at Seventh and Dudley Streets. For the next five decades, he dressed scores of neighborhood teens, who are now husbands and grandfathers, who shopped with him until the end.

One is Matt Milano, 42, a Realtor who worked for Mandel as a salesman in the store when he was 16, doing sales. Milano, who just became a father, came in Thursday to buy a three-pair package of Polo socks that were on sale for $10, down from $18.

"I always bought my work stuff here," he said. "Abe knows his stuff."

About 60 percent to 70 percent of clients were African Americans. The shop was a favorite among reverends and pastors.

"He's a straight up guy, real honest," said Timothy James, 49, a retired Army combat medic who was shopping with his son Tahj, 17, for a prom suit on Thursday. "He gives me good fashion advice."

The elder James said he has been shopping at A Man's Image for 20 years and was passing the torch to Tahj.

Before the discounted yellow tickets this week that read "50 percent off storewide," everything in the store on 1709 E. Passyunk Ave. was tagged and color-coded. If you were tall, you looked for a yellow tag. If heavyset, you looked for the blue tag, and so on.

"That's the difference between the specialty stores, like mine, and the stores for the masses where there is nothing unique, Mandel said. "Their buying power is greater than mine, but so is their overhead.

"If I had a bad week, I wouldn't take a salary, or I would take minimal salary since I owned the building and my overhead was less," he said.

"That's why all of these big discounters think they are giving away things, but they are not," he said. "They can go back to the manufacturers and ask for 'markdown money.' I can't do that. I absorb the losses."

Mandel has three adult children with Susan: daughter Bonnie Singer, 46; his oldest son, Sean, 43, a chiropractor; and second son Dan, 37, a lawyer who works in wealth management for Merrill Lynch.

He said none wanted to follow him in the business.

"They saw how hard I worked," he said.

Repeat customers, said Mandel, is what kept A Man's Image thriving all these years. Ninety percent of his business was word-of-mouth.

"If a customer was nice, I would open my arms to him and treat him like family," he said.

Mandel said to solidify his retail legacy, he is putting up capital for his three full-time employees to buy a smaller space to start their own men's clothing store after A Man's Image shuts down.

Mandel said he would fund the store, and work pro bono as a consultant, except to cover his travel expenses.

"In any business you're in, you need a credit line," Mandel said. "They will use mine to rent a store and I will put a certain amount of dollars to get them started, and ask manufacturers that I've worked with to work with them."

Mandel never advertised - until now, for the closeout sale.

Mark Rosenfeld, who managed his own menswear store's going-out-of-business sale in 2014 - Torre Big and Tall - was called on by Mandel to offer assistance.

"My job is to make sure nothing is left in here, except the lightbulbs," Rosenfeld said.

Mandel has been in the building since 1995 - a 4,000-square-foot space of which all but 500 feet is used to sell merchandise.

Mandel said his customers came from all over, from New Jersey and Philly and as far away as North Carolina.

As the items clear from his racks and shelves, how does Mandel want to be best remembered?

"An honest, fair businessman who was very good at what he did," he said.

sparmley@phillynews.com

215-854-4184

@SuzParmley