David Graves jokes that he’s “the mayor of Eighth Street.”
“If there were such a thing, I’d be it,” he said.
Graves has worked at the Alexander Davis men’s clothing store in downtown Boise for 38 years. He’s sold suits to senators, governors, mayors and billionaires.
And to regular folks who just want to look good in their clothes. He’s waited on as many as four generations of the same families.
The store is a piece of Idaho history. Alexander Davis, 812 W. Bannock Street, is the oldest retail store in the city and possibly in the state.
It was founded in 1891 by Moses Alexander, a two-time Boise mayor and Idaho governor. The store has operated continuously for 131 years, supplying menswear to customers from miners and farmers to tycoons and statesmen. Hanging on one of its walls is a framed copy of its workman’s compensation policy – Policy No. 1A, the first ever issued in Idaho.
An upscale store with high-end merchandise, expert tailoring and employees with decades of experience, it’s believed to be the eleventh oldest clothing store in the U.S.
But its long run is about to end.
“It’s time,” Graves said. “Our last day will be April 30.”
Graves purchased the store from the Alexander family in 2006. Covid hurt sales, as it has for many businesses, and after nearly 40 years of working there he was ready to retire.
In his time at the store, he’s sold suits to Idaho’s U.S. senators, Gov. Robert E. Smylie and every other governor since Cecil Andrus, seven in all. His customers have included Idaho’s potato king, J.R. Simplot, and Joe Albertson, founder of the Albertsons grocery store chain.
As you might expect, he’s had his share of memorable encounters with customers.
“There was a time on a Saturday after closing time when I heard a panicked knock on the door. I opened it, and a guy walks in and says ‘I need an outfit for a wedding tonight!’”
Graves found a sport jacket for the man, pressed it and “told him with assurance he would blend into the wedding crowd with ease and not to worry. The wedding was for 7:30 that night, and it was after 6:30 at this point.”
On his way out, the customer told Graves that he wasn’t merely part of the wedding crowd. He was the groom.
“I don’t know how it all turned out as I never saw the man again.”
Another customer clearly had hoisted one too many before coming to the store to complain about the way his new shoes fit.
Actually just one shoe. He said it was so tight it hurt his foot. The other shoe seemed to fit just fine.
The customer had had so much to drink he didn’t realize that when he put the shoe on he forgot to remove the shoe horn.
“It took a heck of a tug to get it out,” Graves said.
When he began working in the store, there were a dozen Alexander Davis stores from Twin Falls to Ontario, Ore. Downtown Boise had multiple menswear stores – Alexander Davis, Reilly’s, Roper’s, Men’s Wardrobe, Marshall’s … It had four theaters, five department stores.
“Downtown used to be the place to come for high quality, interesting businesses,” Graves said. “There were men’s and women’s clothing stores, high-end department stores, five jewelry stores … That’s all changed now.”
One reason for that was the opening of Boise Towne Square Mall in 1988. Many of the kinds of stores that used to be downtown are in the suburbs now.
Another reason has to do with ways downtown has changed.
“I’m a two-stop shop. Most often you have to come back after what you bought is tailored. You have to park twice, and parking has changed with bike lanes.
“When Covid hit, the city allowed patio dining for bars and restaurants. Sidewalks became choke points with pedestrians, scooters, bicycles and skateboards. The dynamics of the city have changed.”
Now the changing city is about to lose an iconic business that has stood the test of time, and then some.
“Everything good has to come to an end,” Graves said. “It’s bittersweet, but I think it’s time for me to retire and enjoy what a weekend is. It’s unheard of for retailers to get two days off in a row.”
He considers himself “the last of of the old guard,” owners of Roper’s, Brookover’s, Angleton’s and other downtown stores, now fading memories.
“What I’ll remember most are the wonderful people who have supported us. It’s comforting knowing that the store has impacted a lot of people. My head’s held high. I feel like we’ve been a good steward for the community.”