By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a month-long series called the 25 Days of Downtown Christmas that will highlight the fantastic selection of retailers in downtown Garden City.
While a layman might think a business owner would prefer having no competition, Kendall Kepley, owner of Kep’s Menswear, 112 Grant Ave., says it’s really not a good thing.
Kepley pointed out that when he took over Kep’s in 1981 four other men’s stores were operating in downtown Garden City, including Meschke’s across the alley, Squire’s across Main Street, Finley’s which was called Mayo’s at the time, and Mark II Menswear located where Ninja’s restaurant is today. And three years later, a sixth men’s store opened for a brief time where Davis Designs is now.
Having so many options meant Garden City could pull in shoppers from a wide area, even as far away as Amarillo, Texas, which back then had just two men’s stores.
Over the years, Garden City’s six menswear stores dropped to three, and finally just Kep’s after Finley’s closed up shop a few years ago.
“I wish I did have competition. When Bob Finley was here, we were in the same buyer’s group and each year I’d ask him what he’s doing new. I’d say, ‘are you going wool coats or leather in outerwear?’ If he said leather, I’d do wool,” Kepley said. “You’ve got to work together. If he didn’t have it, he’d send them to me, and if I didn’t have it, I’m going to say go right around the corner and go check Bob. We worked good together.”
Casual and dress clothing
Kep’s Menswear offers both casual and dress men’s clothing and accessories, tuxedos, belts, hats, ties, dress shirts, underwear, socks, and one line of jeans.
“All my brands are good brands, name brands. I hunt at market to try and find the best product for the least amount of money,” Kepley said.
Kepley is more selective in his offerings in that he doesn’t carry 50 of the same thing. He maintains a certain amount of variety. He attends buyers’ group shows twice a year and it’s always a challenge to try to predict what men out here might like.
“That’s on the men’s side. Women, they’re on the ball. Men, we’re creatures of habit. You like those khakis, you’re going to keep buying those khakis, right?” Kepley said.
When his brother opened the store in 1980 it carried women’s clothing upstairs and menswear downstairs. Now, the business is solely a men’s store.
Kepley became involved in the business 36 years ago at the behest of his parents, putting a budding career as a professional golfer on hold. Before coming on board in 1981, Kepley was first assistant at the Country Club of Colorado in Colorado Springs, which is Cheyenne Mountain Resort now. In the winter, he was based in Florida and golfed in what was then called the North Florida Space Coast Tour.
Kepley actually grew up in the retail business. His parents, Cecil and Lyn Kepley, originally opened their store in Ulysses in 1946 that was five or six times bigger than the Garden City store. He and his brother Brad had to help out the family by working in the store starting when they were just kids, something Kendall admits he hated at the time.
The Ulysses store opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 6, and Kepley and his brother had to work before and after school doing things like mopping, washing windows, sweeping the front walk, cleaning dressing rooms, vacuuming, and putting up the blinds because store faced the east.
That work ethic carried over into how he operates Kep’s. As the sole staffer, Kepley arrives before 9 a.m., eats his lunch at the store and is usually doesn’t leave until after 6:30. He does everything at the store from sales to gift wrapping and everything in between.
“Let’s just say it’s done very well for me. But I’m one of those guys, I’m in here 60 hours a week. I’m very old school,” he said.
Shop small, shop local
Like a lot of small business, the internet has had a negative impact making it a challenge to compete. Menswear stores are now a destination and see less walk in traffic on a daily basis than it used to. Kepley stressed the importance of supporting local retailers, especially mom and pop type stores downtown.
“When I got here, there were people everywhere down here, walking around shopping. It was crazy down here. The internet is slowly taking that away. If I had one thing to tell people out here is that we do have perks living out here, but if people don’t shop local those things are going to go away. I think a lot of people miss that,” he said.
Kep’s hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Through the end of December the store also will be open on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. All winter merchandise is 25 percent off and Kep’s offers free gift wrapping.