For the first-time customer, walking into Jeans Jeans Jeans in the Mile End can seem overwhelming. The 6,000-foot basement is a sea of clothes racks heaving with denim pants, jackets, shorts, skirts, and dresses. Denim clothes drape the walls from floor to ceiling.
But customers soon realise they will not need to navigate the store’s enormous collection. Jeans Jeans Jeans staff quickly gauge what it is the customer wants, shuttle them to changing room area and generously serve up jeans, advice, and opinions. If a new pair of jeans is needed, they often arrive airborne, flung between members of staff across the floor.
Jeans Jeans Jeans employees’ mission is simple, said co-owner Borys Fridman. “Take care of the customers, be nice to them, get them into the dressing room, get their pants off.”
Fridman sold his first pair of jeans in a flea market in Montreal aged 17 and opened Jeans Jeans Jeans on De Gaspé in 1973; it has since moved one street over to Casgrain. When it opened, the Mile End was the city’s textiles and manufacturing district, and he picked the location primarily because rent was cheap. His first customers were labourers working in the area.
Jeans Jeans Jeans’ clientele has changed and gentrified with the Mile End over the 45 years it has been open. It has also grown steadily. Fridman credits this entirely to “word of mouth,” given that the store does no advertising or online promotion.
“We have customers who have been coming to us for 20 years. Now they bring us their kids,” he said. “We also get a lot of out-of-towners. Everyone wants to bring their family and friends.”
Indeed, Jeans Jeans Jeans has a loyal following in both Montreal and further afield, drawn in by its reputation for great customer service and low prices. Fridman sells his stock cheaper than other retailers by keeping overheads low and selling in bulk.
The unassuming, neon-lit warehouse is a far cry from polished department stores or chain stores. It’s unconventional; staff shout numbers to each other – item codes – in French and English, jeans hurtle through the air and there is at least one dog sniffing around at all times. (That would be the latest member of the team, Lea the puppy: “we are still trying to find the right indigo for her,” Fridman joked).
Co-owner Leroy Richardson has worked at Jeans Jeans Jeans since he was 16 years old, fresh out of a job at MacDonald’s. He has been co-owner for seven years now. It was he who pioneered the jean toss move – “on a busy Saturday, it’s a far easier way to get the jeans from one end to the other than walking them down,” he explained.
A typical day for Richardson and Fridman involves arriving at the store around 7:15 am. And while they open officially at nine, customers trickle in before then needing an emergency fix for their ripped pants before work.
Jeans Jeans Jeans’ hemming and fixing service is an integral part of the business. Like everything at the store, it’s a bargain, with hems done for $7 (unless they are for jeans purchased in store, in which case they are free) and other repairs also starting at $7.
Fridman said people have been tearing their jeans more and more recently. “Biking is killing denim! The whole crotch gets worn out. I call it bixi-butt,” he explained. He also said that men wearing their jeans too low causes them to wear early.
Mornings are also spent visiting suppliers and picking the items to stock for the year ahead. Jeans Jeans Jeans stocks big brands, like Guess, Levis, Buffalo and G-Star and is also proud to stock Montreal brands like Yoga Jeans and Naked and Famous. “We will not stock the $20.95 denim, the ones you find in chain stores,” Fridman said. “But we’ll fix them.”
Every pair of jeans in the store is assigned an individual code that staff commit to memory. On top of this, hangers are colour-coded by size – a move in part to spare customers any embarrassment or discomfort. “We’ll call for a yellow or red or green. We’re not going to yell “she isn’t 28 anymore, she’s a 34,” Richardson explained.
Tammy Wong is sales manager at Naked and Famous, a raw denim company based in Montreal. She said working with Richardson and Fridman is “totally different” from other retailers.
“I love working with them. They know exactly what they want, right away. They don’t need anything explained to them.” The first time Fridman booked an appointment with her, he said he only needed five minutes – and while she protested, he proved her wrong.
Wong said that the fact that the duo own, buy and operate the store is key to their success at a time when many of her other retail accounts have struggled or closed. “They know what they want not only because they have been doing it for so long but because they are really connected with their customer. They are there, they are serving the customers, they are on the ground.”
While there used to be other specialty jeans stores in the city, Jeans Jeans Jeans is now the only one left, said Fridman. Many of the rest diversified into activewear over the last few years. As a die-hard denim devotee, who wears jeans everyday regardless of funerals or weddings, this was not an option for him. “We stayed with jeans. We believed in it. We were going to die by it, or survive or flourish.” Jeans Jeans Jeans has expanded a little, stocking non-denim tees, sweaters, and jackets (eighty percent of the time this is because they are supplied by denim companies themselves).
Another unusual quirk of the Jeans Jeans Jeans business model is their commitment to finding customers parking. “Parking has become a nightmare in this area, ever since Ubisoft and all the other offices set up shop,” said Fridman. A member of staff is permanently stationed outside the warehouse to help customers park. The parking assistant will dutifully guard cars parked in illegal spots, or guide drivers to an underground garage on De Gaspé where customers can park in the space Jeans Jeans Jeans’ pays for. The store also covers parking meter expenses.
The cardinal rule of jeans, according to Richardson and Fridman? Never put them in the tumble dryer – and with raw denim, strictly no washing for six months.
This article is a part of Issue 003: Textiles