After years on Broad, Torre is closing

Torre owner Mark Rosenfeld with a size-20 sneaker. With designer suits and sportswear for big men, the store was popular with pro athletes.
Torre owner Mark Rosenfeld with a size-20 sneaker. With designer suits and sportswear for big men, the store was popular with pro athletes. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)

It’s time, the owner says.

Posted: March 31, 2014

In the end, it wouldn't have mattered what Mark Rosenfeld chose when his father gave him the choice more than 30 years ago of taking over the family ravioli company in South Philadelphia or sticking with its clothing business.

He'd be at the same heart-wrenching point now: concluding that when you've lost the love of your life - a wife of 32 years - work just doesn't fill the void.

And so, Rosenfeld, whose business alterations in the early 1980s helped the third-generation clothier survive the years that followed when so many independents went under, broke the news to his nine employees last week: He is closing Torre.

The final days for the South Broad Street icon with the star-spangled awning, and the devoted following of everyday as well as celebrity large guys, likely will be later this spring - or whenever the inventory of fashions for big and tall men runs out.

"It's the right time," Rosenfeld, 56, a Gladwyne resident and father of two adult daughters, said of his decision to bring to an end what was started 77 years ago by his late grandfather, Harry, and a partner.

"It just came to me - the business, as important as it is, it's not as important as my family. And that everybody will survive if it's not there."

Survive perhaps. But the hole will not go unnoticed, Torre loyalists said.

"He's still there after all these years; that has to say something for the caliber of the business," said Richard Marks, a former marketing consultant to Torre who became a regular customer. "There's going to be a loss in the community."

And to other businesses in the city.

"Unfortunately, it's not replaceable, and we're seeing more and more of that in the United States," said Joel Goldman, vice president of Harmony Clothing in Philadelphia, a supplier to Torre since the '80s.

Yet, he understands Rosenfeld's decision. "The show played long enough," Rosenfeld said. "Now is the time to move on."

Including for a reluctant Terri Gladden, office manager and head cashier at Torre, where the Abington resident has worked for 23 years. While "not a person that's really into change," she plans to pursue a real estate license.

"I still have a child in college," she said. "I still need to do what I need to do. I don't want to go retail anymore. I don't particularly care for it anymore."

As photos lining Torre's walls attest, the store, between Federal and Wharton Streets, became a must-visit for professional athletes, especially basketball and football players - and not just home-teamers.

Rosenfeld made sure visiting players came to Torre when they were in town for a game - by sending a cheesesteak-stocked limousine to their hotels or practice facilities to ferry them to his collection of designer suits (sizes 36-78), and sportswear (ranging from medium to 8X and large tall to 4X tall).

Torre started as Rosenfeld & Cohen, making men's clothing and selling it to the public from a factory store. Harry's son Philip - Mark's late father - helped grow it to a 200-person operation, last located at 10th Street and Washington Avenue as Victory Clothing.

Philip Rosenfeld would open a retail store in 1963 on Carpenter Street. To have a better fit in what was a largely Italian part of the city, he changed the company name to Vic Torre and, in time, to just Torre.

Philip would close the factory in 1980, determining it could no longer compete with Korean-made imports. In 1982, he moved the Torre store to its current 10,000-square-foot location - counting the parking lot - on Broad Street.

Around the same time, Philip sold Superior Ravioli after Mark opted against running it to stay in clothing, a profession he started as a teen.

But the industry had changed since Mark Rosenfeld was that young, mostly to the detriment of mom-and-pop stores that couldn't compete with chains and the Internet. A marketing whiz, he decided to cater to the plus-size man - and it has been solid sales ever since, though never quite returning to prerecession levels.

"People in general don't have spendable extra money like they used to," Rosenfeld said last week.

It was six weeks after his wife and work partner, Mona, succumbed to a rough 26 months with cancer.

"There are more concepts I can do to change my business, to make it better and more profitable for the future," Rosenfeld said. "I just choose not to right now."

Instead, he will plan for coming weddings for both daughters and the law-school graduation of one of them, while he decides his next professional move.

As for the Torre site, it will be listed for sale or rent. Discounts on the inventory inside will begin April 7, with a portion of sales to be donated to the American Cancer Society.

A self-described spiritual person, Rosenfeld said he ran his closing plan past his grandfather and father - and by Mona, before she passed away.

All approved, he said.

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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