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 Ron Elkus, owner of The Shirt Box, started his business 38 years ago right after graduating college. In 2020 he plans to close the store and retire.

Ron Elkus, owner of The Shirt Box, started his business 38 years ago right after graduating college. In 2020 he plans to close the store and retire.

Photo by Deb Jacques

The Shirt Box owner prepares for store closing after 38 years

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 12, 2019

 The Shirt Box, 32500 Northwestern Highway, will be closing in 2020.

The Shirt Box, 32500 Northwestern Highway, will be closing in 2020.

Photo by Deb Jacques

FARMINGTON HILLS — When Ron Elkus, the owner of The Shirt Box, opened up his first 600-square-foot storefront in September 1981 in Southfield, he never expected he would build a retail store that would not only survive but succeed for as long as it has.

Now, 38 years and several transitions later, including to the store’s current location at 32500 Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills, he’s decided it’s time to close up shop. A specific closing date hasn’t been set yet, but Elkus plans to wind the store down by the end of January 2020.

“To be able to do this and to retire on my own terms is pretty amazing,” Elkus said. “It’s not because of health. It’s not because of financial. It’s because I choose it, which most people don’t get to do that.”

The decision to close the business was tough for Elkus, whose only job since graduating from Michigan State University in the spring of 1981 has been owning the retail store.

He said it was prompted by a few things: His lease was about to end, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to renew it; his late business partner, Rod Brown, unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack in 2018; he wanted to spend more time volunteering in the community, helping friends with businesses and traveling; and he simply felt “it was just time.”

When Elkus opened his first storefront, he only sold shirts and ties. Today, he’s expanded his merchandise to include a full array of men’s business and sportswear clothing and accessories.

“Things really changed from 1981. A lot of people wore shirts and ties, and we were (selling) probably 90% shirts and ties. Had we not gone to changing with the times, we would’ve been out of business,” he said. “Luckily, we were really adaptive to all that changing stuff, but if we just said, ‘We’re only going to sell shirts and ties,’ we wouldn’t have been around 38 years later.”

With Elkus’ retirement right around the corner, he’s worried about keeping himself busy, but he said “there’s plenty” of things he could do.

“I would love to have a relationship with a senior citizen on a one-on-one level. I think that’s really important, (and) I don’t think there’s enough people who do that. It’s just a neglected community. I also love what Freedom House (Detroit) does,” he said. “But yeah, I definitely have to keep myself busy. I have a friend of mine who is opening up a bakery, and I told her I want to help her out with the bakery because what better place? It’s all smiles over there.”

Elkus’ affinity for giving back isn’t new, though. It’s how he was brought up.

Through his business, he’s been able to host shoe and clothing drives for the homeless, work with the Jacket for Jobs organization, partner with the Neighborhood Service Organization in Detroit and provide clothes for their clothing pantry, and donate three full semi-truck loads of bikes to Back Alley Bikes.

What has stuck out the most throughout the last 38 years, however, are the relationships.

“No doubt in my mind, it’s the people who I would have never met otherwise. I sometimes go out in public, playing games with myself, asking, ‘Would I have met them or would I know them, if I didn’t have the store?’ Nine out of 10 times, I really know them from the store,” he said. “You become friends. I’ve been invited to weddings. I’ve been through good and bad things, but it’s all because of the store that we’ve met. It’s just the relationships that are beautiful.”

West Bloomfield resident and longtime customer Benson Barr, 72, is one of those relationships.

“I was shocked when I heard Ron was going to close the store. It was my go-to place for shirts, ties and accessories. It was also a wonderful place to shop for gifts for my sons. I’ve recommended it to many friends over the years,” Barr said. “We’re sad to hear the news, but I wish (Ron) the best in the future.”

If Elkus had to do it all again, he said he wouldn’t change much, including the naivety about entrepreneurship he brought to the table at the beginning. The only change he’d make would be learning more computer skills.

“You have to love what you do. I never woke up and said I didn’t want to come to work — except for one day, and that was the day after my business partner passed away. That was my only day, and to say that 38 years later — it’s abnormal.”

Currently, everything at The Shirt Box is 30%-75% off, and Elkus said prices will continue to drop as closing time draws nearer because everything must go. Any items that aren’t sold when Elkus closes his shop’s doors one last time, he plans to donate to charity.