Over the course of history, barns were often a place for invention—for tinkering around on an idea until it became something real. The airplane from the Wright Brothers comes to mind as one of the greatest inventions to emerge from a barn. What isn’t often heard of is a barn being used as a high-end retail clothing establishment. There is one exception that we know of: The Red Barn Fine Apparel in Rochester, NY.
The Red Barn literally began in a barn over 52 years ago, by Don Rhoda. You could say that Don came by his love of clothing and retail naturally, as his father had two stores of his own in Florida. In fact, it was Don’s father that introduced him to the St. Croix clothing collection. “Dad used to tell me: ‘The V-neck wool sweater in all the bright colors was perfect for Florida’, and I adopted them for my store as well,” Don shared.
The Red Barn is a family business through and through. Don’s son, Edward, has been part of the company since he graduated college over 25 years ago, and Don’s wife Pamela works in the business too. The group has seen so many changes over the last 52 years in men’s luxury retail. They eventually moved from the red barn into a new location that doubled their space to over 7,000 square feet, allowing them to carry a much wider selection of clothing. They added a women’s line and a line of clothing for young men. But by far, the biggest change they’ve seen has been the transition of men’s working wardrobe from a complete set of suits—everything that a man would need to go to the office—to the casual approach to dressing, even for work. “I never sold jeans when I first started,” Don said, “But we’ve got a full line of jeans now.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in 52 years is the commitment to the customer. People and relationships are the heart of the business. “Our customers become friends. Our store has become a haven for people. They stop by, kibitz and of course, buy things. And now, the grandchildren of our customers are coming into the store,” Don told us. “This is so much better than being retired because you get to see your friends and visit with them every day. Retirement is overrated!”
While retirement might not be on Don’s mind, being in the retail fashion business for so long does provide a measure of perspective on the industry and his business philosophy. Don noted that all he ever wanted to do was provide a quality product at a reasonable price. Selling only quality items has real value to the business. “People will come in and say, ‘that suit you sold me 20 years ago is still in great shape’. It makes you feel good. It’s like the St. Croix clothing. There are fashion trends, but if you go back 20 or 30 years, nothing is new. It’s just reinvented.”
Don’s own personal style is pretty straightforward. He wears a suit and tie every day, sometimes changing it up with a sport coat instead of a suit. “I feel good when I put on a suit. A nice shirt, a nice tie,” said Don. He’s been doing it every day for 52 years, and people notice. But he admits that his favorite outfit at home is a pair of chino trousers, loafers, and a comfy sweatshirt. “My wife kind of laughs at me, but hey, it’s comfortable.”
Being comfortable is something that Don cares about a great deal. Because the retail world is such a relationship business, comfort is key. He believes that when people are comfortable, you aren’t selling to them, you are helping them. And folks like to do business with people they are comfortable with. “It’s why we buy from St. Croix,” Don said. “It’s a family business with good people. Quality product that people notice. And you can SELL it. It’s the extra emphasis on all the details that matter. That V-Neck wool sweater? It’s indestructible. It’s reliable. And after a while, it becomes an old friend.”
St. Croix Collections Sales Representative Gary Lowy can tell you first hand how comfortable and friendly everyone at The Red Barn is. He gets to see them a few times each season and not only is the greeting warm and welcoming, but he looks forward to getting a great hot cup of espresso in the store.
Gary shared that Ed Rhoda works through the St. Croix Collection each season, and really thinks deeply about the the freshest styles. “For a store that has been around for 52 years, they are on the forefront of fashion,” Gary said. “The Red Barn customer knows that they are getting the finest curated collection.”
Don shared that celebrating the store’s 50th Anniversary a couple of years ago was one of the proudest moments for him. “You look back and wonder—where did 50 years go? You don’t want to look in the mirror—because then you know exactly where it went!” Joking aside, the customer loyalty is especially big for Don, and he doesn’t take it for granted. “My name is on the door, so I better make it good.” After 52 years of serving the Rochester, NY area, it’s safe to say that Don is making things very good for everyone that comes into The Red Barn Fine Apparel store.