Every few years, I buy a new pair of black jeans and I usually go to Trussons Menswear in Lower Marsh, Waterloo, to do so.
On my most recent visit, Barry, who is the fourth generation Trusson to run the shop, was sneezing. He’d had the flu jab a couple of days before and thought it had induced the onset of a fully fledged virus.
Trussons has been a gentlemen’s outfitter for 151 years. The original, triple-fronted shop, across the road, was bombed in the war. The present one was converted from what had been the company’s warehouse. Actually, ‘present’ is the wrong word, because by the time you read this, Trussons will be gone. A hotel is going up across the road and Barry didn’t fancy sitting opposite a building site for the next couple of years.
‘That’s a shame,’ I said.
I am going to miss Trussons. Barry’s prices are good, and I like his stock, the Wrangler jeans and Gabicci jackets chosen (nowadays, one might say ‘curated’) by the reliable taste of someone who had been a mod in the 1960s. His sky-blue plastic carrier bags have the words mod comfys printed on them. And Lower Marsh is one of those ‘characterful’ London streets, where the shops that have given it its character are being squeezed out by the rising costs of rents, leases and business rates.
Barry sniffed. He didn’t share my concern. He owns the freehold and can make more money renting out the premises than he ever could operating his own establishment.
‘I’ve had enough, to be honest,’ he said.
The following morning, my new jeans somewhat outclassing my old footwear, I went to the Leonard Jay menswear shop on Southampton Row in Bloomsbury. There have often been sale signs in Leonard Jay’s window. These ones read closing down, everything must go.
The lady on the ground floor called down to the owner, ‘Mr Jay? Size eleven black leather Chelsea boot?’
I was invited downstairs, where Mr Jay, an energetic figure in tweed and corduroy and bright red running shoes, was finishing his breakfast. He didn’t have elevens, but he did have ten and a half, which might be worth trying. He handed me the pair, asked me, as had the lady upstairs, whether I lived locally, and told me that he could easily get elevens if the ten and a halfs didn’t fit. They slipped on without any need for the offered shoe horn.
‘The best price anywhere,’ he assured me, modestly.
Somehow I had also agreed to buy a pair of brown suede boots before we made our way back upstairs.
‘How about a Harris tweed coat?’
Almost magically, I was now wearing a perfectly fitting overcoat that I would never have chosen for myself but which I wanted very much to own. Mr Jay must have noticed my concern as I looked down at the price tag.
‘Don’t worry about it, it won’t be anything like that,’ he said.
And nor was it. It was half that.
‘A great price,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you’d be interested in a sports jacket?’
I managed to sidestep the jacket which he was advancing upon me with its sleeves open for my arms to fill. Instead, I paid for my new clothes, and his wife, the lady upstairs, gave me a kind of blessing.