By BEN SULLIVAN
Like a crystal ball, the eye of Edward Nalbandian’s sewing needle gives customers a glimpse into the past, present and future of L.A.’s Miracle Mile district.
“I’ve had all the best, all the biggies come in here,” 68-year-old Nalbandian says, biting off a thread from the blue woolen suit pants he’s cuffing. “Lorne Greene, Danny Thomas. Nice guys. Danny Thomas came in here and said, ‘Eddie, I need a tuxedo.’ So I did up a beautiful red number, and he said, ‘Eddie, I’ve never had such a suit.'”
For 40 years, Nalbandian has been the “friends-I-wouldn’t-kid-you face” of Zachary All Inc., fine men’s clothier, where the short, portly, tall, extra-tall and other specimens of man were “guaranteed the widest selection of hard to fit sizes.”
Now, to better compete with shopping malls and the likes of the Men’s Warehouse chain, the Wilshire Boulevard shop is completing its first major facelift.
“We want to keep up with the times,” says 40-year-old Eddie Jr., who has worked with his father in the store since age 12 and now oversees daily operations.
To that end, the father and son team have sunk “enough money to buy a nice house” into renovating the store, including redesigning and painting the exterior and, in coming weeks, painting and carpeting the inside. Next month, they say, the shop will unveil its new look.
Already, the store has outlived nearly all of its one-time contemporaries in the Miracle Mile district, which in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was one of L.A.’s trendiest shopping districts.
Where stores like Desmond’s, Mr. Romano and Silverwoods once competed for the clothing dollars of L.A.’s booming middle class, now Ralph’s grocery, Office Depot and the E! Entertainment building rub shoulders. Only the El Rey Theater a little further up Wilshire keeps Zachary All company as a reminder of the glory days.
Though a survivor, Zachary All has itself felt the pinch that changing consumer shopping habits have had on independent clothing stores.
“Our best year was 1971,” Eddie Jr. says, when the double-knit suit was all the rage and Frank Zappa penned a song about the store titled “Eddie Are You Kidding?”
The renovation has been cumbersome. What was meant to be a two-month job stretched into six. Though scaffolding out front has been removed to reveal a modern, blue and green checkerboard facade, the store’s main doors are locked and only a small sign directs foot traffic to the rear entrance nearly a block away.
Business, the Nalbandians say, has been minimal during reconstruction, with only a handful of customers trickling in on any given day.
Still, father and son are upbeat that the changes will propel Zachary All into the next century, or at least get them firmly planted in the ’90s. When the renovations are complete, Eddie Jr. says, the store will once again hit the airwaves with the sort of television commercials that for four decades have made Zachary All part of Los Angeles’ collective unconscious.
Air time prices have skyrocketed since the old days, when Nalbandian mastered the live sales pitch on talk shows like Joe Pyne and Tom Dugan. But while new TV spots will be shorter and fewer, they’ll use the same from-the-heart approach and trademark camera angles that transform the half-block-long shop into seemingly endless rows of suits, Eddie Jr. says.
“T.V. still seems to be the best mode of advertising for us,” he said.