“Can I make you something to drink?” were the first words that greeted me as I walked through the doors of Bruce Julian Clothier for the first time. It wasn’t even 3 p.m., and I may have slightly hesitated before accepting his offer. Who in their right mind could say no to that, especially when the store owner, Bruce Julian, is known for his famous Bloody Marys?
“We don’t start drinking until noon — usually,” says Bruce, but I wouldn’t blame him if they started earlier.
Long before he was known for his mixed drinks and ran his own store, Bruce Julian was just a young kid working in his dad’s specialty clothing store, Milton’s Clothing Cupboard, in Chapel Hill, NC. “I officially became the stock boy at 13. It was either that or babysit my little brother and sisters. I loved it — it gave me purpose. I was saving money for a car and having a great time with the college students that worked for Dad,” says Bruce.
At the time, his dad, Milton Julian, was one of the most sought-after haberdashers in North Carolina — if not the entire South. Everyone from popular athletes to famous musicians like Nat King Cole relied on Milton’s clothing expertise. He was known for his charming personality, quirky sales techniques (which supposedly included letting turtles loose on the University of North Carolina’s campus for students to find and trade in for clothing … ), outstanding customer service and, of course, impeccable style. With his popularity exceeding the reaches of the preppy college campus, Milton eventually expanded the business, opening stores in several other Southern cities including Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas. Bruce dropped out of high school and moved to Charlotte to work at his father’s store in the Charlottetown Mall, and a year later, he left the family business and enrolled in college — even though he never actually finished high school! “I answered the University of North Carolina at Charlotte‘s (UNCC) first cattle call for students. I sort of dodged the question on completing my high school education,” Bruce explains. “When confronted a couple of years later, they had me take the high school equivalency test as a compromise.”
Working at a local clothing store to pay his way through college, Bruce eventually earned his teaching degree in history from UNCC. And after graduating, he and his father, who had closed Milton’s at Charlottetown Mall due to a diminished customer base caused by the opening of SouthPark Mall, created a business model for a local businessman who was interested in opening a clothing store. That gentleman never opened his store, but Bruce did, leaving teaching to follow in his father’s footsteps. He reopened Milton’s Clothing Cupboard in 1977, which eventually became Bruce Julian Clothier.
Like his father, Bruce has a knack for styling and tailoring, a love for great sales and a strong passion to provide spectacular customer service. With one visit you’ll learn that Bruce is a character in the best ways possible — his charisma and happiness are absolutely infectious! He’s a salt-of-the-Earth kind of guy who you meet and won’t soon forget. You’ll walk out of his store feeling like a million bucks — whether you buy a suit or not (as a single female I had no need to buy a suit during this visit, but any future boyfriends will be introduced to the store and its bar immediately!).
Bruce’s passion and excitement for his job pervades the entire store. From the classic black and white movies dancing across the television screen to the vinyl records spinning ’round, there’s no shortage of fun at the laid-back Bruce Julian Clothier. “It’s all about the customer’s experience in my shop. I want it to be astounding. So the bar, along with my turntable playing albums, the best collection of historical pictures of Charlotte and with my curated collection of antique toys, it’s almost sensory overload,” says Bruce, adding, “I haven’t even gotten to the clothing yet … ”
Speaking of clothing, Bruce is very particular about what products and clothing he carries in his store, carefully curating every piece that comes through the door. “There are certain criteria to begin with,” he says. “I prefer being the only vendor of such a product in town — I will share, but not much. It has to be a good value and obviously great style.”
When it comes down to it, he really prefers to design everything himself. “Making custom clothing is as good as it gets,” Bruce explains. “The possibilities and personalities are endless.” He takes pride in offering an extra special touch with custom linings. “You have a favorite photograph, company logo or message — we’ll have it inside your custom suit or jacket in no time.”
Now, let’s get back to the signature Bruce Julian Bloody Mary Mix. As a big fan of the tomato-based cocktail, Bruce wanted to create the perfect Bloody Mary mix, and while the ingredients of his bloodys are secret, he did let me in on how he ended up with just the right combination. “I set out to come up with the best Bloody Mary. My research and development comprised of going to every bar, in every city and talking to the bartenders about their mix. The best in Charlotte was the Pewter Rose (no longer open), the best in New York was the bar at the Warwick Hotel. Now the best in New York is Balthazar — they use my mix,” Bruce adds pridefully.
Lucky for us in Charlotte, we don’t have to go far for one of Bruce’s drinks — he serves them at his in-store bar daily! And his Bloody Mary mix has evolved into a whole line of products ranging from peanuts and rim seasonings to shrimp and grits kits. Bruce Julian Heritage Food currently carries over 35 SKUs and climbing. “My guess is we add a product about every two or three months,” he says. “Can’t help it!”
One more stand-out feature of Bruce Julian Clothier (yes, there is more …) is the incredible antique toy collection he has displayed throughout the space. You’ll find hundreds of fascinating vintage items — some in plain sight, and others hidden among clothing displays or on high shelves. Bruce says at first the toys were a colorful scheme to get customers’ attention and bring them into the store, but it has turned into what he calls something of an obsession. “One thing led to another. Before I knew it I was going to flea markets and auctions and buying the real thing. Now I have a store and a warehouse full!”
“I want [shoppers] to see how much we enjoy working [at the shop], how you can have fun and be an expert at what you do. I want them happy with the value and with a fond remembrance of the fabulous Bloody Mary I made them while they shopped.”
If you live in Charlotte or are ever just passing through, a visit to see Bruce and enjoy a cocktail (or two) is a must — it would be a shame to miss out on the Bruce Julian experience!
Bruce Julian Clothier is located at 2913 Selwyn Ave., Charlotte, NC 28209. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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