Most people would say it was Elvis who put Lansky’s on the map of famous retailers, but while being clothier to America’s quintessential celebrity certainly didn’t hurt, we say that it’s Bernard Lansky’s irrepressible personality that truly accounts for the store’s success. The man’s amazing ability to talk up anyone and everyone is unparalleled in this – or any – industry. Known to pull guys out of the hotel men’s room and into the store where they then make major purchases, Bernard sees this as no special talent. “It’s nothing but a song and dance,” he insists. “We’re not in the retail business here we’re in the tourism business.”
And of course, Lansky’s high traffic location in the lobby of the historic Peabody hotel (“only a waddle away from the famous Peabody ducks”), where they’ve been since 1980, is the envy of store owners everywhere. The constant turnover of new (and affluent) international customers has boosted the Lansky dynasty at the Peabody from one store to four: one 1,800-square-foot menswear shop (with a smattering of ladies), one gifts, one sundries, and one Elvis-inspired rock ‘n’ roll attire. Bernard’s son Hal is the other half of the Lansky team that buys, sells, merchandises and sweeps the floor; Hal wife, Geri, runs the gift shop now that their three daughters are in college.
Although Lansky’s could probably survive on Elvis-inspired clothing alone (you should have seen the crowds this past summer during “Elvis Week” festivities…), the menswear mix at Lanksy’s is top quality: sprotcoats from Tallia and Coppley; suit separates from Keithmore; sweaters from Tulliano, Tundra, Tricots, Cellini, Gran Sasso; shirts from Nat Nast, Haupt and Tommy Bahama; slacks from Ballin and Keithmore; outwear from Rainforest and Guy Laroche; Mezlun footwear; Talbot neckwear, and much more. Hot now (and always) are duck ties from both Talbott and Robert Daskal, a Weatherproof jacket at $110, Guy Laroche leather jackets at $450 to $495, a Tallia tweed sportcoat at $475, and all Tundra sweaters as featured in store windows.
“Mr. Bernard” started out working with his father in the grocery business. “Early on,” he remembers, “my daddy gave me the best advice in the world. He took me over to a window, pointed outside and said ‘Here’s the world, son; now go out and get it.’ Nothing was ever handed to me, and working hard was just part of life.” After he got out of the army in 1946, Bernard joined his father at this second-hand dress shop before they purchased an Army Surplus store on Beale Street for $125. Almost accidentally, the store evolved into a custom clothing business, as all of the great musicians of the late 1940s came to select from bolts of fabrics and have suits custom-made by Lansky’s two tailors. (On his most famous customer, Elvis, Bernard says, “He was a nice young man and always loyal because I had given him credit when he was first starting out and couldn’t afford the clothes. He turned out to be a great ambassador, promoting the store all over the world.”)
Lansky’s musical heritage is still very much in evidence at the store. More than 70 guitars now decorate the walls, signed by the likes of B.B. King, Van Morrison, Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Johnny Cash, to name just a few. Bernard tells of a recent rendezvous with Sheryl Crowe, who was in the store and needed a ride to the airport; he gave her one personally in his trusty Buick Roadmaster wagon.
Working seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and often later, Lansky is asked if he doesn’t occasionally need a break (other than his bi-annual trips to MAGIC and the New York Collective). “Why would I need a vacation?” he asks, incredulously. “Everything I love in the world is right here.” Asked about his secret fountain of youth, Lansky explains that he regularly engages in the healthiest of all possible workouts: ringing the old cash register.
You got that right, “Mr. Bernard"