Dressing the Whole Person – The Unique Experience that is J. Alden Clothiers

img_0815Profile and Photography by RONA MANN

You just can’t teach customer service.

Sure, you can teach manners and rules and procedures for treating the public, but that’s just not the same as having a true, innate feel for people. For knowing inside how to gauge someone’s mood or rhythm. For reading them. For that you have to have been born with it. No book will provide the intuition you may be lacking. No course can teach you how to sense a feeling. You either have it or you don’t.

Jim D’Alessio has it. And he’s spreading it around Essex every day. At the Essex Board of Trade where he serves as President, on the street where he warmly gladhands the tourist as well as the local; and most especially in the comfort of his store on Main Street, J.Alden Clothiers. His manner, his philosophy, his way of doing business are what those of an older generation would call the “old fashioned way of doing business.” But Jim D’Alessio is not of that era. In fact, he’s quick to say he just celebrated his 50th birthday. It’s just that this is the only way he knows of doing business. It’s all he’s ever known and believed since he left college in the mid-80s to work for Hartford’s high end retailer, Henry Miller Clothiers. It was there that Jim’s love of fine clothing and dressing well intensified. It was there, and at a subsequent managerial position with Ralph Lauren, that he honed those innate people skills, developing into a first rate haberdasher. This manner of bringing clients to a comfortable level became his mantra, his modus operandi, and the only way he can function, because from an early age, Jim D’Alessio was thoroughly invested in people.

He’ll quickly tell you he believes it was his education in psychology that has taught him about reading people; but spend a short time in his store, and you may well disagree. He just has “it,” and it’s not only built a successful business, but it has enabled him to be a good neighbor, a cheerleader for the wonderful slice of Americana that is Essex, and one senses, a very good friend.

J. Alden Clothiers, opened in 1993, is a shoreline specialty shop for men and women situated right in the very center of this historic town. “The post office is across the street, The Black Seal (a popular watering hole and restaurant) is right next door, what more could I ask?” smiles D’Alessio.

Before the customer sees the shirts, perfectly coordinated by color and size, stacked meticulously on highly polished wooden shelves…before the visitor notes the ties, the cards, the trousers, the golf wear, the vintage watches, the soft as butter leather shoes, the key fobs, the eyewear, the unique accessories, the cigar collection…before all of that, the customer sees “Winston.”

img_0892Winston is the subtle focal point of the store. In addition to being a laid back yellow Labrador Retriever with eyes that pleadingly bore into yours, he serves as a wonderful ice-breaker at J. Alden. Seated regally on a rug, surrounded by his canine accoutrements, he stops traffic frequently, as first-time visitors, as well as the regulars, stop to pay a visit. D’Alessio has wisely added touches of Winston to his inventory. Baseball caps with a logo of the dog’s head and the letter W are for sale, there are canine key fobs and accessories, all for the purpose of setting the stage for what is to be an exceptional and pleasurable shopping experience.

To watch Jim D’Alessio interact with customers is to yearn for those old fashioned days gone by. He doesn’t merely ring up an item or answer a question about a piece of clothing; he takes care of the WHOLE customer and all of his or her wants and needs. On a recent sunny afternoon a young couple came into the store. They were specifically there to purchase some small item for the man. While browsing leisurely, the woman found a beautiful blouse and added it to the items brought to the counter. As he rung up the sale, Jim chatted pleasantly. “Are you local to Essex, or are you visiting us?” The couple replied they were from Norwalk and were just spending a few days in town. D’Alessio made pleasant, yet pointed conversation when he asked if they were here to enjoy all Essex had to offer. The couple answered that they had chosen Essex as the venue for their upcoming nuptials, and they were in town to attend to detail. Immediately, D’Alessio got involved. He never was abrasive nor aggressive, but pointed out that J.Alden could handle the tuxedo rentals. He also suggested that the couple consider giving their groomsmen and fathers dress shirts embroidered with their initials on the cuffs. “You can do that?” the bride asked incredulously. “Absolutely,” D’Alessio answered, “ we can do it all.” He then showed the impending bridegroom his selection of fine cigars. “Just give me a little notice, and I’ll have the wrappers personalized with your names and the wedding date.” “What a great idea!” both young people chorused.

It could have just been a simple sale, and in many other shops it would have been just that. Ring it up, swipe the credit card, bag the purchase, deliver a perfunctory thank you, and the clerk goes back to what he was doing before the customers “dared” to intrude. Not so at J.Alden Clothiers. “The focus for me is, although this is a shoreline specialty shop, it doesn’t mean all purchases are quick cash and carry.” That’s the attention to detail Jim d’Alessio possesses. He doesn’t have any agenda other than the customer who’s standing in
front of him, and he will do anything and everything to not only please them, but to have them leave his shop completely and totally satisfied.
That’s why he maintains a file with many of his customers’ measurements. A valued, long time client can simply call or e-mail Jim from whatever part of the world he or she may be in at the moment, explain their needs, and instantly the right garment in the right size is on its way.

img_0873J.Alden Clothiers is synonymous with some of the finest names in business attire, resort, and casual wear. Men know and appreciate the quality of names like Ralph Lauren, Hardwick, Corbin, Peter Millar, Bills Khakis, and Southern Tide. Women’s clothing and accessories are provided by Gretchen Scott, Dizzy Lizzy, Agave Denim; and everyone loves the subtlety of St. Johns fragrances, the Smather and Bronson needlepoint belts, Rebecca Ray key fobs, and the Kiel James Patrick line of triton knot and turks head knot bracelets crafted from locally twisted nautical cord. A recent and welcome addition to J. Alden are Pink Tulips Pocketbooks hand crafted in leather and fabric by Killingworth designer, Annette Cook. D’Alessio loves showcasing local vendors; and when possible, tries to feature the best of made- in- America clothing and accessories.

“What I like about the specialty store business is hand-picking items for my clients. I like to dress well.  I like to dress my clients so they feel comfortable and confident.  When I buy merchandise, I’m not buying by the dozen like the mall stores do.  I buy 3 or 4 of something so you don’t see our clothes everywhere.  But if someone comes in and likes something that’s not in their size, we can get it for them.”

Getting it for the client is paramount to Jim. That’s why J. Alden proudly offers services above and beyond: alterations and tailoring, even for outside clients; reweaving of damaged garments, shoe repair and reconditioning, and always, always, that attention to detail rarely found today.

“I would love to have more stores in resort areas, but I don’t think it will happen,” says D’Alessio. I’m too much of a stickler. I would not be content to have someone else handle my customers. I have to be there.”

You see, you just can’t teach customer service.

You’ll find it at at J.Alden Clothiers, 17 Main Street, Essex. (860) 767-7633