Thursday, February 11, 2010


The first time I met Keith was when I needed a new sports coat. The ones I had were looking a little tired. As I walked into the clothing store he approached me with a smile.

“Is there anything I can help you find today?” he asked.

I usually gave the “no thanks, just looking,” as an automatic reply until I had found something that interested me. But there was something about him that didn’t make that a fitting response to his polite question.

“Yes, I need a new sport coat,” I answered. “I’m a 42 long.” I gave him my size as I thought this would position me as a man who knows who he is, or at least what size he is.

“You’re a 44 regular,” he said without leaving my eyes.

“No, I’m a 42 long,” I argued.

“Just a minute,” he said. He then walked over to a coat rack and quickly grabbed two coats. “Here, try these on.”

I did as I was told, first one, then the other.

“Which one do you like?” he asked.

One was noticeably more comfortable: plenty of room in the shoulders without being sloppy, it closed nicely across my chest, and the arm length was just right.

“This one,” I said as I looked in the mirror.

“That’s a 44 regular,” he said with a smile. “From now on let me worry about the size.”

When you lose an argument about yourself that quickly and that decisively it puts you in a vulnerable position. I was now ready for the big push – the high pressure sale that would surely come. It never did.

Keith had me take off that coat and then I followed him over to the rack where he picked out two others for me to try on (both 44 regular).

I actually liked them both, but Keith explained why the second coat was a better buy.

“It’s a beautiful coat,” he said.

For the next several years I let him restock my wardrobe. Before I gave Keith control my clothes looked like they had been handed down from Dad when he no longer considered them fashionable. The days of me dressing like an old man were packed up and given to the missions.

Keith has been helping men look better for over forty-five years, sometimes working for others, sometimes owning his own store. For the past nine years you could find Keith talking to one of his friends at Bill’s Toggery in Shakopee.

Some people call them customers; to Keith they are his friends. Everyone needs someone like Keith in their lives, someone who will be honest with them. Honest enough to tell them that a shirt and pants combination, chosen that morning in the dark, clashed with each other. I even learned that some styles had their own names, such as “South Dakota rural.”

Keith would tell me what I didn’t need as often as he would say what shirt would go with the coat he sold me six months ago. This trick was accomplished while the coat hung in my closet nine miles away.

Now in his early sixties Keith is ready for retirement. He’s worn out shoes and carpeting walking the sales floor; I think he’s ready to sit down. Sometime towards the end of this month he will ring up his last sale from one of his many friends.

As he hands the happy man (or woman shopping for her husband) the purchase Keith will say “I really appreciate the business. Thank you very much.”

No Keith – thank you, and good luck.

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