Walking through the doors of Frohsin’s Clothier in Alexander City, residents are immediately transported back to fond memories of a time when customer service was at its peak and quality items were chosen based on personal style.
That’s the exact feeling Keith Watson hoped to replicate once he discovered the narrative behind the building and the 105-year-old family business that housed it.
Alexander City Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Ed Collari, with the help of Valley Bank President Mark Spencer, convinced Watson that a men’s specialty store was a missing niche in town, and Watson rose to the challenge.
“I came to Alexander City to ghostwrite a book, and just fell in love with the town. I saw an opportunity here. It’s been a unique journey and a blessing to be part of the city’s history while bringing in something new,” said Watson, who moved here from Atlanta where he owns a marketing agency.
Not being native to the area, Watson didn’t even know about the original Frohsin’s business until the history started unfolding as construction began.
“It all clicked after that. I met with Ralph and Allyn Frohsin to request permission to use the name,” said Watson. “It was such a cornerstone of Alexander City, and this was definitely needed in the community.”
People have shared their memories, stories, memorabilia and items from the historic store, and some even line the walls and shelves of the newly opened retailer. Some residents have donated old hat boxes, photos, receipts and ads.
“We found artifacts when we began tearing down the walls, including a briefcase that was given to Ralph Frohsin as a graduation gift. I think a lot of stuff was meant to be storage, but it got walled in over time,” said Watson.
The Frohsin’s family provided records and artifacts, and much of the materials and furniture in the building were re-purposed for the new store. The checkout counters are the originals, along with the display cabinets.
“Even the elevator car has been restored. So many people remember riding it as a child,” said Watson.
Five levels of remodel had to be set on fire and scraped down to revert the floors to their original look, and they were finished with linseed oil.
The building was constructed in the 1880s, burned down and was rebuilt in 1905. It’s been closed since 1996 and was in rough shape when Watson took it over.
“We had to take care of so much structurally that some things in the building we just chalk up to character,” he said.
Having done a lot of Main Street revitalization projects in Georgia, it’s a personal hobby of Watson’s to restore historic buildings; however, this is the only one he’s restored that had such a long, established business in it. Construction took place over about a 10-month period, and the store opened its doors in March.
“Alexander City is a unique economic microcosm. We have a strong local clientele and when lake people come in, they’re always pleasantly surprised,” said Watson.
The store began as a men’s specialty store but is now about 50/50 with women’s clothing and gift items, as well. Custom ordering and tailoring is complementary, and new products typically arrive every two weeks.
“The goal is a mix of upper-end specialty items from unique brands carried in places proven to be quality,” said Watson. “We also want to offer what is needed here and complement other stores. We met other downtown business owners, so we can hit the right markets.”
From fabric feel, manufacturer and rarity, Watson said, he is very particular about the brands they carry. They try to limit the number of items offered in a certain size, so a customer is likely buying a distinctive product.
He also is in the process of designing his own Frohsin’s brand of shoes, clothing, belts, etc., to supplement the heritage brands already carried. Watson said he is open to constructive criticism and feedback as to what people like and don’t like to best meet community needs.
With the guidance of General Manager Taylor Dixon and Floor Manager Stuart Brasell, Frohsin’s Clothier prides itself on high-end concierge amenities with an insurmountable level of customer service, said Watson.
“The Frohsins used to go to shows in New York and modeled the store and the service after merchants on 5th Avenue. We want to continue to do that and make the Frohsins proud by doing right by the name,” he said.
Sandra Thompson, who was a frequent shopper at Frohsin’s in the late ’60s, had nothing but wonderful things to say about the original business.
“I just loved going there. Everyone was so, so nice, and it was just a notch ahead of it all. The main thing is that they would get to know you and knew what you liked. My personal shopper, Jeanette, would call me when things came in and hold them back for me,” said Thompson. “They’ve done a wonderful job with the new Frohsin’s. It’s beautiful and brings back so many memories.”
Watson hopes to supply that same level of personal touch and re-instate that experience for customers.
In the book, I’m Still Here – The Memories of Ralph Frohsin, the second generation store owner wrote that the key to his father’s good business sense was his open-mindedness, and Watson has incorporated that same principle.
“We have to go outside the box to set us apart. Our lines are growing, our uniqueness is growing; we have a long-term vision,” said Watson.
Alexander City officials, including the late Mayor Jim Nabors, embraced that same vision and helped Watson jump so many hurdles, he added.
“They are the reason I’m still here and investing money in the town,” said Watson. “I believe in the city and all its growth. I think people want to spend money in town; we just have to give them a reason to.”
Watson also owns The Coffee Corner on Main and has other projects in the works.
Frohsin’s Clothier is open every day, except Sunday, until 7 p.m. and is located at 8 Broad St. For more information, visit the Frohsin’s Clothier Facebook page or call 256-409-8040.