The Ties That Bind

I write this at great personal sacrifice, knowing I will herewith disclose to the masses information I have shared with only a very select few. I am about to reveal one of the best-kept secrets of the Elm City.

New Haven has a number of hidden gems known to and enjoyed by only a select few of the cognoscenti. There's The Young Men's Institute Library, that funky private library on Church Street near Chapel where, for a token membership, you can enter, rest and read in an atmosphere that puts you back in time. There's Sprague Hall at Yale on College near Wall where, if you keep your ears open, there are countless free concerts on odd evenings during the week. There's the private number at Sally's which, I'm told, if used properly, gets you to the front of the line and promptly pepperonied and mushroomed without an hour's wait. And there's Atticus Bookstore and Café on Chapel near the British Art Museum where, after six, their fantastic breads are half-price.

Horowitz Brothers Inc. on Chapel near State has, without doubt, the best bang-for-the-buck menswear bargains east of the Boulevard Flea Market. It is a throwback to a time when New Haven had Shartenberg's, Malley's (the Original, on Chapel and Temple), National Shirt Shop, Alling Rubber, Besse-Richey, Johnson's Men's Store, The New Haven Savings Bank (again, the Original, on Orange and Wall), the Waldorf Cafeteria and Liggett's Drug Store on Church and Chapel.

Horowitz is, or professes to be, a fabric shop. It has wooden floors, the kind that gives and creaks in certain places. The floor is filled with table after table piled with bolts of cloth and fabric. There's a customer service area where you can buy dress patterns and get the cloth cut. And hard up against that there's an old-fashioned scale, the kind you step up on, put a coin it and feel it shift under your feet while a big metal arrow sweeps in an arc inside a large round dial and bounces a bit before stopping at what it claims is your correct weight. And, get this, there's a counter up front where those so inclined can still pay their utility bills, in cash if you want, just like your grandmother did. Not far away is a metal cage elevator, which, unlike the scale, doesn't work anymore. And next to the elevator are the stairs. Those stairs lead to the secret.

On the second floor of Horowitz Brothers is what passes for the clothing department. I say department, but that's misleading. It's a musty room with wood paneling and recessed, dim florescent lights. Like its downstairs relative, it holds scattered display tables. On those tables is clothing, both men's and women's. Along the walls are racks, also with clothing, some with intact labels and some with partials. If you look carefully you can find some pretty good stuff. Lands' End. L.L. Bean. Pendleton. Perry Ellis. You have to be selective, but there are bargains to be found.

The real treasure, though, is the ties. Ah, the ties. Somehow, someway Horowitz has a pipeline to places like Brooks Brothers, Paul Frederick and others. Horowitz ends up with scads of ties. The have repp stripes; club ties; geometric ties; patterned ties. Some are discontinued and many, for those more discerning than I, might be described as "out of season." These are ties that sell for $35 to $40 if you have enough gas and patience to get to the Clinton Outlet or the "better" men's stores. But the best part is every tie--no matter the maker, no matter the condition-- sells for $5!

It's a modern day miracle. You can go there on Monday, spend $25, and spill soup on every one of those ties for the next 5 days and you're still ahead of the game. You can go to the second floor of Horowitz, make a purchase, and walk out feeling like you got an A+ on a chemistry exam you were sure you would flunk.

There are risks, however, to traversing the Horowitz Trail. You must be careful. You must examine every tie you purchase for flaws, pulls, and tears. There is, after all, a reason why they're there. They are not all perfect. But that's where Rose comes in.

Rose is in charge of Horowitz's second floor. She is the personification of Quality Control. An absolutely delightful person, she has been there for decades. The second floor is her domain. She is the safeguard against imprudent sartorial investments. Before any purchase is completed, proper Horowitz etiquette requires the customer request of Rose an examination for the imperfections only her trained eye can detect. I can't tell you how many five-dollar errors she has prevented. In fact, before I learned the proper etiquette there were mornings I would stand in front of my mirror and sadly realize that, unless I owned a suit with a vest, I had just purchased a five-dollar dust rag. Now, I know better. I take advantage of Horowitz's answer to the Norton Anti-virus-- Rose's sharp eye and sense of taste.

So that's it. A secret revealed. Or at least part of a secret. The other part is the customer list. Who are the other cheapskates who, like me, sneak up to the second floor to amplify their modest wardrobes for next to nothing? Perhaps the list is not as scurrilous as the one once kept by Heidi Fleis, but that part of the secret I shall not reveal. However, after this column is published, if I see anyone with a fistful of 100% silk Brooks Brothers bargains talking to Rose (other than the regulars-- and we all know who we are), I'm posting your name by the elevators at 235 Church St.

It's one thing to reveal a secret. It's another to ruin a good thing.