In 1964, Dick Mehlhaf was already well-known in Corvallis as a reliable man a guy could go to for reliable men’s clothing, having gone from playing football, at what was then Oregon State College, to working at existing men’s stores. So, when he decided to go into business for himself at 251 SW Madison —the current location of the Shoe Hutch — he put his name right on it: Mehlhaf’’s Men’s Clothiers.
54 years later, the shop (now 300 SW Madison Avenue) having outlived Dick and his wife, is run by son Rich Mehlhaf. However, the younger Mehlhaf is ready to retire, and has decided to close the business, rather than see the family name in the hands of others.
“I’ve been with the store since it first opened, 54 years ago,” Rich Mehlhaf says, “and I feel pretty good about retiring. I won’t miss spending every day on my feet, the drudgery of pressing clothes and going down into the basement for window dressings. I will miss the social aspect, the relationships I’ve built with customers and suppliers. Some have become good friends. I’ll also miss the artistic pleasure of making up the window displays.”
Year after year, as the holiday season has descended upon us, the display windows in the iconic Masonic Lodge building that Mehlhaf’s occupies have been decorated with assorted items that the owners have kept in the store’s full basement. Now, all of those items are being put in the windows with price tags on them, being sold off, along with the store’s fixtures. Some of the items are as familiar as the Mehlhaf’s sign itself, like the mechanical elf which has stood in the store’s window every December for years innumerable. Perhaps some other downtown business will buy it and keep the tradition alive.
As for Mehlhaf’s soon-to-be-vacant space, the Masonic Lodge has not yet announced a new tenant, but the downtown corner space is likely to be highly sought after by other businesses.
By John M. Burt