Menswear took a hard turn in the 60’s. Gone were the days of Rock Hudson and Carey Grant. Young men were discovering new fashion role models in the likes of Robert Plant, Jimi Hendrix and I guess maybe the Beetles, maybe. It may have taken them a second, but the powers that be started to understand that young men who wanted to be in the know were more than willing to part with their hard earned cash to do so. Being one of the firsts to capitalize on this notion was a shoe business. In 1968 Melville Shoe Company went beyond just shoes for the first time and they hit a gold mine.
Chess King was tailored across the board to the younger generation. The basic idea seemed to be who better to keep the company on trend then the clients themselves. The main offices and distribution headquarters were all staffed by young adults and in the stores, managers were barely out of there teens. The manager of the first Chess King opened in Dedham Mall, was a 19 year old fellow by the name of Paul Harris.
Stores were designed to be as cozy as the basements kids would hang out in. Barn wood paneling on the walls, bold carpeting, the smell of incense burning and loud music. It was all there, with your friends older brother at the helm and the hot chick from school running the counter. And if that wasn’t enough to make you want to stop in and putter around for a while, stages and runways were installed to accommodate live shows. In no way shape or form could it have felt like you were actually shopping. So you may have also picked up a new pair of bell bottoms or blew a bit of your savings on that policeman’s overcoat you’d been eying, but it was great, the whole experience was great.
Chess King never really looked to future fashions because someone, probably one the budding staff, understood that’s not how most teens operated. Young men wanted to buy clothes that were in, clothes that they’d seen on tv or in magazines, pieces they already knew they wanted. They weren’t looking to be sold on the next big trend, they just wanted to stop by and pick up a new shirt, maybe a medallion. If they found themselves needed something fancy, Chess King also carried three-piece vested suits, or a leather jacket may have been more their speed. Whatever you needed from slacks to flannels Chess King was the place to get it.
Melville Shoe Corporation successfully opened a total of 6 stores in it’s first year and almost quadrupled that number within the next year. By 1975, there were a total of 252 Chess King stores in operation from north to south, east to west, all over the US, including Puerto Rico.
By the time Melville decided it was time to strategically reduce it’s operations, there were enough Chess King stores that it almost doubled Merry-Go-Round’s retail outlets when they purchased Chess King in 1993. The acquisition of Chess King would also send Merry-Go-Round’s sales from the high millions to over a billon dollars.
More Chess King at Mallwalkers:
Chess King Rocks – A look at failed ad campaign involving washed up rock stars.