A FAMILY AFFAIR … Lauber Clothing Owner Tim Smith has worked alongside his daughter, Michelle Collins for over 35 years. (PHOTOS PROVIDED)
By: Amy Wendt
On Friday, October 30, 2022, Lauber Clothing finished off its last day of business with a small get-together of about 30 friends and family in the back of the store.
This bittersweet moment marked the end of an era for the Smith family, downtown Archbold and Northwest Ohio.
For owner Tim Smith, operating the men’s clothing and formal wear store has truly been a labor of love.
“My favorite part of every day is turning that key and walking in here. I have never had a day that I didn’t go ‘Man, I’m lucky,’” says Smith.
“From sweeping the sidewalks, washing the windows, vacuuming the carpet, and getting going,” he continues.
It’s clear, many long-time customers have become good friends. “As I get older, I have about 15 ‘old cronies’ that come to see me,” Smith says in jest.
“They walk into the front door and if I’m busy…they just walk out the back door. Otherwise, they just sit down, watch me work, talk a little bit about farming and real estate and whatever. This is one of their stops.”
Another long-time Lauber customer, Dian Wendt said “Tim’s a super guy with a good personality. I always enjoyed it when my boys were in weddings because he would take care of the whole group.”
Founded in 1888, Lauber Clothing has been in the family for 134 years and Smith is the fourth generation at the helm.
Starting at the age of 12, Smith continued to work off and on at the store until college.
After graduating from Northwestern Michigan Junior College and serving in the military, Smith came back to Archbold to work at the store full-time alongside his parents and brother, Jeff.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Smith family also owned “The Hen House” ladies’ apparel store in Archbold, Smith’s Department Store in Fremont, Indiana, and three men’s clothing stores in Angola, Indiana. All stores except the Archbold location were sold around 20 years ago.
For 42 years, the store carried both men’s and ladies’ apparel. “It was like a “Charles Company,” explained Smith.
Over the years, the store carried rubber boots, work shoes, Carhartt workwear, Levi’s jeans, ladies’ apparel, and ladies’ foundation garments.
According to Smith, the banks and other professional offices loosened their dress codes in response to the 2008 recession which prompted the store to discontinue stocking ladies’ clothing.
From that point on, the store’s primary focus was men’s clothing and formal wear. “We sell suits all over. I just did a wedding out of Indianapolis for nine suits. They all came up here to get their suits.” Smith said.
In a 10-person wedding party, usually, at least three groomsmen cannot come in person to get fitted. In those cases, Tim can order the exact size just by seeing a photo of the person and knowing their height and weight.
For many young men in the area, Lauber’s was the place to go to rent a prom tuxedo.
“The big box stores do not give you personal service.” According to Smith many of these larger stores have either gone out of the suit business or limited their selection.
“They carry the ten good sizes and two good colors,” Smith explained. 30 years ago, there were nearly 35 specialty men’s stores in the area, and now that Lauber’s has closed, there are only around three or four stores left.
Not many realize how Lauber Clothing helped its extended community behind the scenes over the years.
“We tell the school if you have somebody that doesn’t have a tuxedo that would like to go to prom, you let us know,” Smith shared.
There also have been times when the store allowed someone in need to borrow a jacket for a funeral instead of renting it out. It’s just a “part of the business,” Smith said.
“You know, other (small) businesses do the same thing.” Smith also noted that the Archbold Bluestreak shirts that remain at the store after closing will be boxed up and sent to the school for children who do not have any Bluestreak gear.
Continuing with the family tradition, Smith’s wife, Debbie, has taken care of all of the bookkeeping and taxes over the last few years.
Smith’s daughter, Michelle Collins, has also worked alongside her father in the store for 35 years. “Michelle can measure tuxes and do everything I do but she can do better.” Smith boasts.
Like her father, Michelle started working at Lauber’s at 12 years old. Smith says that his grandson, who is in the 7th grade, also loves to work at the store whenever he can.
According to Smith, his grandsons are the only kids standing up front at school programs in sportscoats and ties, and they love to dress up.
The decision to close the store was made by the family in January 2022. “After being here for all those years it got to the point where it became too much work,” Smith explains.
“The last five years have been the most profitable five years we have ever had. Business is fabulous.”
However, after approaching several parties, “Nobody wants to buy the business. Nobody wants to take over,” Smith says.
“We tried to give away the tuxedo business which was very big, and everybody we presented to thought it was a lot of work and didn’t want to do it.”
IN THE BEGINNING … Lauber Clothing Owner Tim Smith around 1963.
It will take about a month for Smith and his daughter to clean out the remaining stock and fixtures from the building.
“You can’t walk away from your business when you retire like you can from General Motors or Sauder. You leave and that plant keeps going.”
“When you own your own business, you must take care of the utilities, building, racks, and fixtures. You gotta sell everything.”
While nobody will be reopening a clothing store at the location, Homier Monument will be staying in the front of the building.
After retirement, Smith plans to stay in this area. “I will be living right here for the rest of my life.”
“All of my family’s here. All my friends are here. Everybody I know is living in Northwest Ohio. This is home.” Smith shared.
Smith has also offered to fill in at two other one-man operation clothing stores if they need the day off.
On Thursday, November 4, Smith will be honored with the Citizen of the Year Award by the Archbold Chamber of Commerce.
When he first heard of the honor, he told them he was not interested. His daughter, Michelle said, “you’re going to do it, Dad.”
Smith continues, “my next thought was how am I going to get out of this because I like to get out of things. Well, I ended up accepting.”
To Smith, the award has been a real honor. “I’ve had an enormous amount of people on my Facebook and stuff comment to me. Past employees have been coming in.”
“I never thought I did anything but what I was kind of supposed to do – my job.” says Smith. “All of my children and grandchildren are excited.”
Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org