Always in Fashion

while big clothing stores are closing down, home-grown businesses shine

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth


A uniform indicates occupation. A pair of running shoes communicates athleticism. Accessories show attention to detail, and a tear in the knee suggests an active lifestyle.We display our dedication to social causes with pithy T-shirts and swish logos. And we show Chippewa Valley style and investment in our community by shopping local.

In 2017, Walmart held the greatest share of the U.S. apparel market at 8.6 percent, according to Morgan Stanley Research. Amazon was second at 7.9 percent, with Target stores, Kohl’s, and T.J. Maxx and affiliated stores coming in at just under 5 percent each.

"That’s part of what we need to decide as a community. Does Eau Claire want interesting small boutiques and restaurants and special food, or do they want fast food and Walmarts?" – MICKEY JUDKINS, DETAILS FINE APPAREL & ACCESSORIES

“People want to buy suits at Sears, I guess,” John Muldoon, owner of Muldoon’s Men’s Wear said with a shrug. But he doesn’t seem concerned. His father, Frank Muldoon, opened the men’s clothing store 68 years ago. There’s a sepia photo hung on the “history wall” at the front of the store, 1506 S. Hastings Way, that shows the flat, undeveloped earth that surrounded the building at the time. He has seen other small clothing businesses come and go and watched as box stores moved into Eau Claire, including competitors such as Macy’s and Men’s Warehouse.

Muldoon attributes the store’s continued success to reputation and flexibility. He likens his business to a small ship.

“The biggest advantage is that I can change direction overnight,” Muldoon said. “If something comes into fashion, I can buy it and get it in the store in about a week.” He keeps track of the preferences of his patrons, working with suppliers to keep fashionable slim-fit suits in stock in all the right shades and hues.

Mickey Judkins, owner of Details Fine Apparel & Accessories, 502 Water St., also runs her business with attention to customers’ needs. The manner of chain stores is too impersonal, she said. “They’re getting order-takers, but they’re not getting the kind of service we offer.”

Mickey Judkins from Details Fine Apparel & Boutique
Mickey Judkins from Details Fine Apparel & Boutique

That service, for the past 30 years, has been helping women develop styles that work with their lives and body types. Judkins began Details when she saw an unmet need for a high-end clothing store for women, and has grown the business with her customers. When people come to her in search of a specific item, she does what she can to find it for them. “As they asked for more special and unique things, we became more special and unique,” she said.

By Muldoon’s reckoning, box stores are much bigger ships – it takes them longer to adapt to customer preferences. Feedback is delayed, communicated in sales numbers instead of the one-on-one conversations Judkins and Muldoon have with the people they serve.

Muldoon saw an uptick in business of about 25 percent, he estimates, in the past year. He attributes this in part to the closing of Macy’s in 2017, as their customers searched for a new place to buy suits, jeans, and shirts. The closing of Younkers, and soon, Sears, two more anchors in Oakwood Mall, may drive more people to locally owned shops in their quest for clothes.

However, it might also send shoppers to chain grocery and department stores, or online to familiar names like Amazon, which is experiencing rapid growth in its clothing sales.

“That’s part of what we need to decide as a community,” Judkins said. “Does Eau Claire want interesting small boutiques and restaurants and special food, or do they want fast food and Walmarts? And that’s a decision I think they’re making with their dollar.”

“There’s a clientele that thinks it’s really important to support their local stores,” she said. “They want the nine people who work [at Details] to be employed and to stimulate the economy, and they want those goods and services in Eau Claire.”

A dollar spent at a locally owned store changes hands nine times within the community, Judkins said, while most of a dollar spent at a chain leaves that community. Spending money at small businesses of all kinds also lends itself to a diversified economy, which will be stronger during economic downturns, she added.

“If we had to close our doors, you would have only department stores – you would have to go to Minneapolis,” Muldoon said. “We are the only clothing store of our type in at least a hundred-mile radius.” People come from as far as Green Bay to work with Muldoon’s for everyday suits or wedding party attire. Thanks to its selection of rarer fashions, Details also brings visitors to Eau Claire, and both businesses draw more money into the area with online sales.

Judkins is seeing what she calls a rebirth of local clothing retail in the Chippewa Valley. Over the past several years, local boutiques and clothing stores have been popping up in Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Chippewa Falls, offering quality products and individualized service. There are even options for those searching for custom-designed clothing. These are the originators and the facilitators of local fashion, helping define the “look” of the Valley. “People are saying ‘I want these kinds of goods and services.’ ” Judkins said.

Muldoon and Judkins are ready to meet that demand as it grows. “We live here, we spend our money here, and we care,” Muldoon said. “We’re all good neighbors.”

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