AFTER 30 years Mt Lawley retail veteran John Higgins is closing down Jack Clothing on the corner of Beaufort and Walcott Streets.
Despite a conga line of other retailers folding due to the strip’s economic woes, Mr Higgins says he just wants to retire and spend more time relaxing and hanging with his family.
Turning 70 this year, he says it’s getting trickier keeping up with fashion trends.
“I’m not sure if I can keep in touch with everything, because it changes so quickly,” he said.
“In the old days I would always be out on the town and going to clubs and pubs and what have you, and so I would be reacting to fashions as they actually started, whereas now I tend to be home alone with my dogs, pipe and slippers. I’m just not out on the town like I used to be.”
His retirement has been on the cards for a few months, but he held off while Beaufort Street went through a downturn, hoping to minimise the impact on remaining shops.
“I feel as though Beaufort Street is on the way back up again. We definitely had a decline here, but I really feel as though it’s on its way back up,” Mr Higgins said.
“So I was trying not to add another ‘for lease’ sign to the shopping precinct because it just makes it look bad.”
He’s also inured to economic downturns: “I started the shop in 1990, and at that time there was a very deep recession going on, the ‘recession we had to have,’ is what Paul Keating famously said, and boy did we have one.”
Before opening his own shop he’d had experience working in sacred fashion grounds like Carnaby Street, Oxford Street and King’s Road in London, while in Perth he worked for “a very nice chap called Tony Barlow”.
“I remember when I was leaving… he said ‘John, you won’t last six months!’
“I think he was trying to find some way of persuading me to not go, because we did get on very well and we worked well together.”
But he found a way to forge a path during those tough times: “I used to buy bankrupt stock and sell it in the shop cheaply, that’s how I got started because I had no working capital to start it off.”
He recalls in the early days Beaufort Street was “very seedy and run down, and there was a lot of crime in the area. We were ram raided twice, which is very demoralising as you can imagine, because you end up with a stolen car in the middle of the shop.”
At the time anyone on the market for a leather jacket could either buy one retail, or hang around in a pub until someone offered to sell them a cheap stolen one from their car boot.
But the seediness had its nice tales: “We used to have a halfway house down the road here which was for prisoners who’d just come out of gaol.
“Sometimes the ex-prisoners would come into the store and they’d have a docket from the halfway house, and they could buy an outfit with the docket and I’d reclaim the money from the government.
“They were going for a job interview … I used to do my best to make them look really respectable, I wanted them to get the job, because then they’d become my customer.”
Mr Higgins said he earned some loyal customers that way.
He’s looking forward to singing in his two choirs, Men of the West and Voicemail (who are performing Highway to Hell for the Perth Festival) and spending time with his daughter and grandchild, but says he won’t completely disappear from the scene.
“I’ll still be around the street. I’m one of those people, if you’re in the supermarket and get this annoying person who wants to chat to you in the line, that’s me. I’ve got loads of friends who live around here… I’ll certainly be around the traps.”
Mr Higgins says he’ll miss the camaraderie between traders, such as his neighbours from the Astor, Seven Willow Designs, Elroy Clothing and Grand Cru. They all had kind words to say about him.
“John’s been an institution in Mount Lawley,” Grand Cru’s Charlie Salpietro says.
“Jack Clothing would be one of three or four Beaufort Street businesses to be around as long as he has. He’s a lovely man and we wish him all the very best in his retirement.”
Mt Lawley MP Simon Millman, whose office is across the strip, applauded Mr Higgins’ timing: “I’ve been speaking with John about his plans for retirement for several months. It’s a testament to his dedication to our community that he delayed retiring to avoid being associated with concerns last year about the local economy.”
The shop’s initial closing date was January 31 but the landlord, the amiable Bruno Zimmerman who owns the Astor, is happy for Mr Higgins to stay open another week or two to finish the store as it started.
“It’s a little bit like harking back to when I first opened here,” Mr Higgins says. “A friend who has bankrupt stock has asked me to clear some for him.”
by DAVID BELL