Sitting in the lobby of The Peabody hotel, Hal and Julie Lansky repeatedly pause the conversation to greet people walking by. Pointing across the room, Hal Lansky is able to pinpoint hotel guests who have been in town, all the way from Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the past week.
"The Delta begins in the lobby of The Peabody," Hal Lansky said. "This is Memphis' living room."
Lansky Brothers, the store Hal and Julie Lansky run, has had a location in the Peabody since 1981, when the family opened a small, 300-square-foot tie shop as a favor to Jack A. Belz.
"After that, we started growing," Hal Lansky said. "We took over the next space, we took over the next space, we took over that space, we took over that space, we took over this space. We have most of the retail [space] here."
At the time the family opened that tie shop, The Peabody was on the upswing after being closed for close to a decade due to financial issues. Belz bought the hotel in the mid-'70s for $400,000 and spent $25 million renovating it. The Peabody reopened in 1981 and marked the start of a decade of revitalization for Memphis' downtown.
"People come, they want to be entertained," Hal Lansky said about The Peabody location. "Of course they come, they want to see the ducks, but they also come to connect with the Lansky's."
Even prior to their Peabody store, the Lansky Brothers were a staple in Memphis and in the music world. They have had a location on Beale Street since Hal Lansky's father, Bernard Lansky, founded the store with his brother in 1946 as an army surplus and uniform store. In the early 1950s, when that business dried up, the family switched to focusing on men's fashion.
The story goes that in 1952, Bernard Lansky noticed a young man repeatedly looking in his window, but never coming inside. Eventually, Bernard Lansky asked the young man, who was 17-year-old Elvis Presley, to come inside. According to Bernard Lansky, Elvis told him that he was going to buy him out when he got enough money. Bernard Lansky responded, "Elvis, don't buy me, buy from me!"
The family store did eventually dress Elvis throughout his career, including his outfit for his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956. The first exchange between Bernard Lansky and Elvis is painted on the windows of the Lansky Brothers Peabody store, showcasing the pride the family still has in dressing Elvis.
"We knew all about it," Julie Lansky said. "During school sharing days, my grandfather would come, we would bring a special visitor throughout Memphis music history into our schools, which was very cool."
Julie Lansky grew up in the '80s and '90s and remembers running around the men's big and tall stores her family owned at the time. In 2001, she graduated college and planned to go into advertising after a singular summer of working in the Lansky family stores. Two decades later, Julie Lansky is still working in Lansky Brothers, with her father, just as her father worked with his.
"My grandfather, he taught me the art of the sale, how to talk to people, and my dad taught me the business," Julie Lansky said. "I went to four years of college, but got my education here at Lansky's."
The Lansky's is a family business. The Lansky Brothers store on Beale Street is temporarily closed and they are still deciding which direction to go with it but hope to reopen in the spring, as they are the last family- owned business on Beale.
For a while in the 1960s during urban renewal, the only stores on Beale Street were Lansky's and A. Schwab. The city tried to buy out Lansky's, but the family refused. Hal Lansky remembers they got attorneys, but he doesn't remember if they ended up going to court over the issue.
"Urban renewal really ruined Beale Street," Hal Lansky said. "They bought all these places and it was empty for years. They tore them down and it was like a ghost town and then in 1980, '81, Beale Street opened, B.B. King's opened, but they chased a lot of people off of Beale Street."
The family has never connected the struggles in the '60s and '70s to the struggles of the last year due to COVID-19. For them, it was never a choice to survive.
"We just woke up, and we made decisions and we were fighting fires the best we could," Julie Lansky said. "There was no choice for us to not survive. We don't have that mentality, we are very focused on our business and staying positive is number one."
Despite that, Hal Lansky admits that 2020 was the hardest year he remembers. They were closed for 52 days. A large portion of their customer base prior to the pandemic was out-of-town guests, in Memphis to visit where Elvis bought his clothes.
And for the most part, those who come to the store to hear about Elvis are out-of-towners, something that Hal Lansky thinks reflects on Memphians' general apathy toward Elvis.
"We don't appreciate what we have. People come from all over the globe to come to Memphis to experience the Memphis experience. A lot of people here in Memphis, they could care less about Elvis," Hal Lansky said. "We have something that people want to experience. I don't care wherever you go in the world, if people cannot speak English or whatever, if you say Elvis, it puts a big smile on their face."
But during the pandemic, Memphians started showing up more frequently, if only because visiting Lansky's offered them something to do when most things were shut down.
"Since the pandemic, we have been depending more on our Memphis clientele," Julie Lansky said. "We're normally used to people from all over the world walking into our stores every single day."
In contrast to 2020, 2021 has been a great year for the Lansky business. And, they still dress musicians, or, as Hal Lansky puts it, "rock stars and wanna be rock stars."
The family is still dressing musicians, with clientele that includes the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and Carlos Santana. A list of celebrity sightings at Lansky's can be found on its website.
"We're thrilled to be here," Hal Lansky said. "I hope we're here for another 30 years, 40 years."