Johnston’s to close after 107 years in business in Wichita3 min read
Another longtime Wichita business — one of the city’s oldest at 107 — is closing.
Johnston’s will be out of business by Christmas following a closing sale that starts Thursday.
Owner J.V. Johnston, whose father owned the store before him, said he has a lot of mixed emotions.
“I’ve never been divorced, but it’d probably be like that.”
In 2017, Have You Heard? reported that although Johnston doesn’t have a crystal ball, at least that we know of, he’s pretty good at looking into the future.
First, he saw a trend eastward and started the Collective development at K-96 and 21st Street and moved the store there in 2005. That was before traffic was booming in the area.
Then, even as the area became popular, Johnston saw the trend toward online sales; however, he said he didn’t have the scale or the resources for it. He downsized the 13,000-square-foot store to 5,000 square feet, which also included Section37, the women’s side of the business that’s also now closing.
Add a global pandemic to the mix, and it was all too much.
“Honestly, it was happening anyway, but COVID just accelerated it greatly,” Johnston said.
He said so did Sedgwick County’s order for nonessential businesses to close during the beginning of the pandemic.
It “really forced people to shop online, if they even wanted to shop.”
Late last year, Johnston announced he would sell the store, and he said potential buyers looked at it.
“The problem is we are just barely profitable, but we’re not profitable enough for someone to buy it and make a payment on it.”
The store first opened downtown in 1914 as McVicar, Howard & Millhaubt.
Johnston’s father, Jerry Johnston, was managing a Duckwall store in 1965 when the landlord at Boulevard Plaza approached him about taking over a store there that was known as McVicar’s Menswear.
“Basically it was broke, but (he) didn’t know it,” J.V. Johnston said in a 2016 story when his father died.
The elder Johnston had borrowed money from his father, his father-in-law and a friend and mortgaged his house to pay for the store. After a couple of weeks, Johnston says his father realized the true situation. “He had three little boys and wife at home,” he said. “He had no choice but to make it go.”
Today, along with reminiscing about customers and employees who became close friends, Johnston recalled working for his father.
“You remember when you were 10 years old tearing boxes for your dad when the shirts came in,” he said.
“In the old days, all the shirts came in at one time, so there’d be, you know, hundreds of boxes. Of course, he wanted to get them all out in one day.”
In 1976, Jerry Johnston added his name to the business, and when he moved to South Hillside in 1985, he changed the store name to Johnston’s for Men.
J.V. Johnston said his father understood the business, and he said he believes he’d understand the store closing, too.
“He could see the changes coming just like all of us could in retail,” Johnston said.
“I think he’d be OK with it.”
This story was originally published November 2, 2021 11:18 AM.