Putnam’s Clothing in Wilton closing; services still offered

WILTON – With “Retirement Sale” signs in the windows, Putnam’s Clothing, 41 Main St., a longtime downtown fixture, is set to close as owner Richard Putnam reinvents himself, continuing to offer tailoring and formal wear rental services as his business goes “mobile.”

Since 1977, Putman has been at the helm of his store, selling men’s and women’s clothes, and offering fine seamstress services and formal wear rentals.

“My great uncle came to work here in 1899 to help out the man who owned the business, Mr. Emerson,” he said. “And he never left. He bought the business from Mr. Emerson in 1934 and then my dad became involved with it in 1948 and I got going with it in 1977.”

Putnam learned the tailoring trade when he arrived at the store, saying he was “self-taught.”

“I had no classical training whatsoever,” he added. “I use an expert seamstress to do anything that I don’t feel capable of. And that works out. And that part of my business will continue even though I won’t be in the building.”

The store space itself will become an art gallery within the next couple of months.

Putnam said he has spent 72 of his 75 years in the 41 Main St. building.

“As a toddler and on up through, there is a lot of history here,” he said. “But it’s time to move on. None of my children are interested in a Main Street retail business. They’re educators and parents and that’s where they belong. And that’s just fine. There’s a little nostalgia in leaving, but what’s coming is going to honor the building as it is. I take great comfort in that.”

The sewing services have become time-honored around the valley, Putnam said, so he will continue to provide them. He said he’ll be “going mobile,” but the fine details have not all been ironed out.

Putnam, who resides in Milford, said the decision to retire was not a difficult one.

“Absolutely not,” he echoed. “The COVID shutdown made it abundantly clear that I really like retirement. I had a lot of time to spend with my wife and the kids, even though we weren’t physically together a lot, but we were in touch and being able to do stuff around the house and not have a schedule- that’s the biggest thing on the bucket list.”

Watching Wilton’s downtown endure the changes of the last half a century, Putnam said those were the days when you could do a day’s business on Main Street.

“Most everywhere in the country, there was a shoe store, a hardware store and a bank,” he shared. “The first hit I took was with the ascendance of mail order catalogues, like Bean and Land’s End. I had to struggle to keep up with them because it became convenient to order sitting at home.”

The big box stores never seemed to bother Putnam much because he followed his philosophy, “be where they aren’t.”

“I offered the service that they didn’t,” he said. “That proved successful.”

Clothing competition became more and more intense, and Putnam said in the last ten years, with online ordering, the physical retail experience has all but disappeared.

“It’s disappeared all over the country, so I have no sour grapes about that,” he said.

“It’s just reality and that’s the way it is. Downtown Main Streets, and you’re seeing it in Milford as well as here, dining and entertainment are going to be what makes a downtown thrive. And everything else is gravy.”

Putnam said there is still room for boutiques and other shops in a downtown district but added that he’s “beyond that point of reinventing myself.”

Putnam will turn over the dry-cleaning aspect of the business to his vendor, because that vendor operates on the road going from house-to-house.

“He’ll get my customer list for dry cleaning,” Putnam said. “And we’ve always done formal wear rentals and that we will continue but in a different way of doing it. But we’ll make it happen.”

Doing special orders is another facet of what Putnam will continue to offer.

“I’ll still be in touch with people,” he said. “We’ll get things delivered to customers.

Wilton Main Street businesses like Nelson’s attract customers to downtown, and Putnam said there are more good things to come.

“I see good things for Wilton,” he reiterated. “It’s going to be alright.”