Owner of The Shirt Box in Farmington Hills Ron Elkus looks ahead to volunteer work and travel after he retires in 2020.

Featured photo courtesy of Catalyst Media

Ron Elkus, owner of the popular Shirt Box men’s clothing store, will miss some aspects of his retail life when he retires early in 2020. But mostly he is grateful for the relationships he has built with customers and for their loyalty to him during the past 38 years.

When his plans to close The Shirt Box were announced, Elkus, who is 60 and a Huntington Woods resident, was shocked and surprised at the reaction of his customers. “I was overwhelmed by the response. They sent flowers, cakes and gift certificates. The store is being eulogized,” Elkus says.

Customers clearly appreciate his approach to retail which he describes as “service, price sensitivity and relationships.” Some of those customer relationships extend over multiple generations. When one of his customers heard about Elkus’ retirement, he expressed regret because “I really wanted to bring my grandson here.”

Elkus’ retail career began in 1981, soon after college graduation, when he opened a store selling shirts and ties in a small house in Southfield. Over the years, he expanded his merchandise to include virtually all components of a man’s wardrobe from shoes and jeans to dress shirts and outerwear. The Shirt Box moved to a much larger location on Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills in 1987.

Ron Elkus shows dress shirts to customer Tony Bordoley. Courtesy of Catalyst Media

As customer needs and habits changed, so did The Shirt Box. “Casual Friday became casual every day,” he says. Today 60 to 65 percent of his customers buy business or dressy clothes compared to 90 to 95 percent in the past. Customers range in age from 30 to 70 and come from all over the Detroit area.

While Elkus added an online presence, 95 percent of sales occur in the store. “Customers say they love the brick and mortar. People want those relationships,” he says.

Elkus is pleased that the store has continued to do well but several reasons inspired him to retire. He cites the death of his long-time business partner, Rod Brown, last year, and the upcoming end of the store’s lease.

“I’ve had a good run and I’m healthy,” Elkus says. Owning the store made it harder to travel and that will be one of his priorities after early 2020, the planned closing date.

He is training for another charity cycling event for Make a Wish. Elkus has participated in their three-day, 300-mile course for nine years and promoted the event at The Shirt Box.

Courtesy of Catalyst Media
Courtesy of Catalyst Media
Courtesy of Catalyst Media

Elkus has worked with multiple organizations to help a wide range of people in the Jewish and general communities. The Shirt Box has donated clothes to Jackets for Jobs — a program to “suit-up” low-income job applications for job interviews. Partnering with another organization, The Shirt Box collected donated bicycles for Back Alley Bikes, a repair shop which fixed them for distribution to needy children by the Neighborhood Service Organization.

He has hosted three charity auctions of artist-designed shirts and vests at The Shirt Box with proceeds going to charity. In addition, Elkus has been involved with JARC for 30 years, formerly serving as board president. He has also been active with MSU Hillel.

In 1992, Elkus was recognized by the Jewish News for his acts of kindness as a “Mitzvah Hero.”

Elkus plans to continue volunteer service, including work with the elderly and at Freedom House, after retiring. In addition, he wants to travel more and help some friends with their small businesses.

There are a few possible buyers for The Shirt Box. However, its employees have secured other jobs and a clearance sale is planned for January.

“I’ll miss the relationships, the socialization. People become part of your family. These 38 years have been a blessing,” Elkus says.

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