Longtime downtown merchants sell store
Longtime downtown merchants sell store BY TIM MEKEEL, Business Editor
Last fall, Shane Behmer went to TMB, the popular downtown clothing store, to buy a sports coat.
He's ended up buying the whole store.
Behmer and his wife, Kaitlin, have purchased TMB from Larry Helicher and his wife, Faye, it was announced Tuesday.
A price was not disclosed for the nearly 44-year-old store, which has become virtually synonymous with center city retailing.
"We're not coming in to totally make over the business," Behmer said. "It's been successful for a reason.
"For the most part, what people have come to expect from TMB will be what they continue to receive. ... It's still going to be a high-end, classic men's and women's specialty store," said Behmer, who previously helped run a local truck dealership.
Explaining the decision to sell, Helicher said running the landmark store with his wife was "one of the best experiences of our lives."
But the couple yearned to take a vacation "that's longer than a week."
The Helichers opened the business as The Male Bag at 202 W. King St. on Oct. 3, 1969.
Initially they focused on casual apparel, such as jeans and T-shirts, for male high school and college students.
As Helicher put it, "We were the Gap before there was a Gap."
They moved the business to its present address at 36-42 N. Queen St. in 1976, added women's apparel in 1979 and jewelry five years ago.
Not only did TMB change its name and address over the years, it changed its type of merchandise.
TMB transitioned into high-end apparel, including custom-made clothing, for professionals.
"Our customers were maturing," Helicher said. "They were getting out of college and going to work. They needed suits and sports coats and dress things. So we adjusted to their needs.
"We found the niche that Lancaster wanted. We've always focused on giving people what they want -- in service, quality and merchandise."
Staying in tune with customers has been the key to TMB's success, he said, noting that his business has been profitable every year.
"The relationship we have with our customers is the most important part of the business -- understanding what they need," Helicher said.
As a result, those relationships often last a long time.
"My first customer still shops in our store. Many of the customers we started with still shop in our store," he said.
Customer loyalty has been a major factor in TMB's longevity, as has its downtown location, said Helicher, long a vocal advocate for center city.
Helicher, 65, oversaw the TMB men's department while his wife, 62, ran the women's and jewelry departments.
Helicher praised the Behmers for their business savvy and focus on customer service.
"We'd never hand over the reins to someone who wasn't suited for this business," Helicher said.
The Lancaster couple sold only the business, which has 12 employees.
The Helichers will continue to own the real estate and lease the location to the Behmers.
Behmer, 29, said he grew up in family businesses. His grandfather started Keystone Peterbilt, which later was run by his father and uncle.
His brother owns Pennsylvania Truck Centers, a Mack and Volvo truck dealership, where Behmer had been general manager.
Behmer said he was looking for a new career last fall when he went shopping at TMB for a sports coat.
He got to talking to Helicher, who shared that he was thinking of selling the store.
More conversations were held in the ensuing months, culminating in the sale being completed Monday and announced Tuesday.
Though it seems like a leap to go from trucks to suits, Behmer is confident the switch will go well for the Manheim Township couple.
"Business is business. There are a lot of aspects that are the same. It's all about taking care of the customer. But this fits my interests -- fashion more so than trucking," Behmer said.
Behmer and his wife will manage the store as the Helichers did.
Behmer will run the men's department while Kaitlin Behmer, 24, will run the women's and jewelry departments.
Kaitlin Behmer said she's held several jobs since graduating from college, but hadn't found her niche until the TMB opportunity came along.
She said the new career has her feeling "excited and energized."
nLarry and Faye Helicher, who opened TMB as The Male Bag almost 44 years ago, decide it's time to leave clothing business.