Retirement will suit him fine

The owner of Anchor Men’s Wear says that after decades in business he’s ready to call it a career and close a store that has been a mainstay in downtown Port

STANDING IN THE MIDDLE of Anchor Men’s Wear Monday was owner Scott Schweizer, who is putting the store inventory and fixtures on sale this week as he prepares to close the downtown Port Washington shop and retire. Schweizer, 63, began working in what was then Sager’s Apparel in Port in 1980 and bought the shop from the Sager family in 1987. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Anchor Men’s Wear, which for decades has catered to businessmen looking for suits, teens renting prom garb and grooms seeking tuxedoes in downtown Port Washington, is going out of business as owner Scott Schweizer prepares to retire.

Signs went up announcing the closing sale this week, and fliers were sent to many of Schweizer’s regular customers notifying them of the event.

“We’re going out on the top of our game,” Schweizer said Monday as the shop was being readied for the sale.

His wife, he said, is retired from West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. after 45 years, making this a good time for him to take his leave as well.

No final day has been set for the store, which Schweizer said will close when the inventory is sold.

While the end of a mainstay business is often a concern for a community, bringing fears of a prime building remaining vacant, that won’t be the case here. Steve Bennett,  the proprietor of Bernie’s Fine Meats, owns the building where the two businesses are located and said he plans to create a market there in the future.

“I plan to fill the space slowly but surely,” Bennett said, noting he’s made some infrastructure improvements to facilitate this. “This will not be an instant process. I want to do it right. I want to keep the quality up and keep the feeling here of an old-fashioned butcher shop.

“I’m not opening a grocery store, and it may not happen as soon as people want, but we will be figuring something out and make things happen.”

Bennett, who said he’d like to hear from people what they want to see in the space, said the time isn’t quite right for a full-fledged market, noting there isn’t a large downtown population yet.

“I think we’re on the verge of wonderful growth. I want people to hold on,” he said.

Anchor Men’s Wear has been a mainstay of downtown since it opened as Sager’s Apparel roughly 50 years ago, and Schweizer has been key to its operation since taking over as manager in 1980.

Schweizer doesn’t live in Port, but you would never know that by stopping in the store, which has a decidedly small-town feel to it. He knows many of his customers by name, caters to their tastes and has made service his hallmark.

He’s even turned the store into a social club where he and his customers have been known to play a game of cribbage or cards while exchanging the news of the day.

“I’ve been blessed. I don’t have customers. I have friends,” Schweizer said. “There have to be a dozen people who come in everyday just to check in and see what’s happening. This is a close-knit community.”

Schweizer recalled that when the Milwaukee Brewers went to the World Series in 1982, customer Charlie Ross stopped in and mentioned he would be going to a game. Schweizer asked him to pick up a program for him, but Ross went one step further, bringing him a ticket for the game 15 minutes later.

“He said, ‘Now you can get your own program,’” Schweizer recalled. “Isn’t that cool?”

Schweizer worked to become part of the community, taking a lead role in everything from the Chamber of Commerce to Port Main Street Inc. to development of the city’s farmers market. 

And he’s had a front-row seat to the changes in downtown Port,  from a vibrant shopping district that served the everyday needs of the community to an area struggling to compete with big box retailers to a thriving tourist destination. 

“Every year it’s getting better and better,” Schweizer said. “When I came here, there wasn’t even a marina. 

“The downtown is gorgeous, and I think that Port Washington has been found.”

Not only does the city have a bustling tourist trade during the summer, people from as far away as Chicago are coming during the holidays to take a mini-vacation and do their holiday shopping, he said. 

“It’s safe and you can walk freely here. There are enough stores that they can get a lot of their shopping done,” Schweizer noted.

One big plus for downtown came when Duluth Trading Co. opened, he said. The shop drew a crowd to the city, and many of those people have visited other downtown stores and made return visits. 

All these things make closing his store bittersweet, he said. 

“We’re lucky. We found our niche here,” Schweizer said, noting the store is a step above Kohl’s and big-box retailers in terms of quality. “It’s going to be tough for me. It’s a lifestyle — it’s never been work.”

Schweizer got his start in the clothing business while in high school, when he was in the distributive education program and sent to work for Fred Sagar at his men’s clothing store.

“I was vacuuming the floors, washing the windows and selling the floor,” he said.

Eventually, Schweizer said, he went to shows to buy merchandise for the store and once referred to himself as a buyer. Sager put him in his place, he said.

“He said you’re not the buyer until you pay for it. You’re the picker-outer,” Schweizer said. 

He and Sager’s son Don were partners when the store expanded to the former County Faire Mall in Grafton, and when the family opened its Port store in what is today the Port Harbor Center Schweizer was its manager.

That was in 1980. Seven years later, after the Grafton shop had closed, when the Sagers decided to downsize, he purchased the business and named it Anchor Men’s Wear.

The transition was seamless, Schweizer said.

“Don Sager came to Port Washington once a year. He let me run it the way I wanted to,” he said. “I was the face of the store the whole time I was here. Everyone thought I owned the store anyway.”

He credited the success of the store to the fact he knew his customers and carried the lines they liked, as well as the fact that, being a small shop, he could respond quickly to changing trends in men’s clothes.

“Pleated pants were big two years ago,” he said. “Today, I don’t have a pair of pleated pants in the store,” he said. “I talk to my customers every day. They tell me what they’re interested in, and I make sure we have it.”

And the demise of many large retailers has meant a resurgence in business for smaller shops, Schweizer said.

Throughout the years, he’s had a handful of close helpers, including Marie Heinen, Mabel Meyer, LaVern Godersky, Agnes Morgan and Cathy Schowalter.

The one constant is Schweizer, who takes just one day a week off. He also takes time for deer hunting each year, as well as vacations.

He and his wife have traveled extensively, but there’s much of the U.S. they haven’t seen. Their first trip after he retires is likely to be next summer, when they’ll take Route 66 from Illinois to California.

“I’m really looking forward to that,” Schweizer said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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