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A 3-button farewell

February 09, 2005

Andrew Edwards

Before Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza, Gordy Atkinson was

selling suits to the Newport Beach elite.

Harkening back to a time before big department stores and trendy

retailers, Atkinson's store -- called simply Atkinson's -- sits along

Via Lido, as it has for five decades. But only a few days remain

until the waterfront store sails off into history. Atkinson plans to

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close shop and retire Saturday.

"Business isn't what it used to be," Atkinson said. "Nobody wears

suits and sport coats. Nobody dresses like a gentleman."

Atkinson, 66, followed his father Gordon into the clothing

business. He started working at the Atkinsons' first store, in

Pasadena, when he was 14. In 1954, the family moved the business to

Lido Marina Village, where Atkinson has worked ever since.

Atkinson said his list of clients resembles a who's who of Newport

history. He counts entertainers John Wayne, Joey Bishop and Rock

Hudson as past customers. Atkinson's roll also includes Irvine Co.

head Donald Bren, the developer's father, film producer Milton Bren,

and Watergate figure H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, who was Richard Nixon's

chief of staff.

"The elite lived on the water, in apartments and were all

customers," Atkinson said.

Atkinson's is lined with three-button suits, cashmere sweaters and

more clothing reminiscent of the look one would expect to find at a

New England university or office. Absent are loud colors, hip

stylings or anything that smacks of attitude.

"There's only one style -- it's traditional," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said the "beginning of the end of fine-tailored clothing"

started about five years ago, when he noticed two-button suits and

pleated pants coming into fashion.

One problem for the store, Atkinson said, is that many of his

faithful customers already have enough clothes.

"Everybody's older that shops here; they've got three sport coats

already; and my stuff will last you a lifetime," he said.

As the store's closure loomed on the calendar, some longtime

customers stopped by Atkinson's Tuesday morning for one more visit.

Barton Beek, whose family owns the Balboa Island Ferry, said he has

been an Atkinson's shopper for about as long as the store's been

around.

"I used to buy clothes from Gordy's father in Pasadena, when I was

in college," Beek said. "I've been shopping here ever since Gordy

opened it."

Without Atkinson's, Beek doesn't know where he will shop, he said.

New styles available from stores at South Coast Plaza and Fashion

Island don't fit his tastes.

"Those guys are too fashionable for me," he joked.

Another customer, Ed Miller of Newport Beach, said he would miss

Atkinson's and other bygone stores that he believes have better

service and history.

"It's just another part of old Newport changing. Let's not say

dying, but changing," Miller said. "You see some of the old

restaurants and old clothing stores go and be replaced by chains, and

it's sad."

* ANDREW EDWARDS covers business and the environment. He can be

reached at (714) 966-4624or by e-mail at andrew.edwards@latimes.com.

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