CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

Couple’s 40-year business retains personal touch

Cindi and Tom Cavanaugh in their Main Street store in Bangor, Best Bib and Tucker. They have been married for nearly 45 years and in business together for almost 40.
Cindi and Tom Cavanaugh in their Main Street store in Bangor, Best Bib and Tucker. They have been married for nearly 45 years and in business together for almost 40.
Posted June 14, 2012, at 4:46 p.m.

BANGOR, MaineShopping for clothing with my son takes place only after much arm-twisting. He once wore a pair of sneakers until they were more duct tape than canvas. Nevertheless, during a college break he finally agreed that he should have one nice suit. That was the day we first walked into Tom and Cindi Cavanaugh’s store, Best Bib and Tucker.

The Cavanaughs met when they were working at a clothing store in Portland in the 1960s. In August, they will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. During most of their lives as husband and wife they also have been business partners in their men’s and women’s clothing store, working side-by-side virtually every day for nearly four decades. The last time they took a break for travel was in 1988.

It is an impressive record for both business and marriage, but after spending a morning with Tom and Cindi at their store, I understand why it works so well.

They both love what they do. The atmosphere of Best Bib and Tucker is both homey and elegant, with upholstered wing chairs that invite you to sit a spell. The decor and displays are simultaneously classy and comfortable, adjectives that could also be used to describe Tom and Cindi.

With humor and hospitality, they offer a kind, personal touch to everyone who walks through the door. Their devotion to clothing, clientele and each other all add to the warmth of the place.

Tom and Cindi are lifetime Mainers, but neither had been north of Augusta when they first moved to Bangor.

“He’s the artist,” Cindi said. It was her encouragement, Tom said, that prompted him to enroll in an art program at the University of Maine.

“She’s resourceful,” Tom added.

Their complementary strengths soon united.

In 1973, Cindi opened a home business selling pinafore and caboodle aprons. A few years later, Tom and Cindi opened their first storefront in Winterport and lived upstairs. They also sold antiques that doubled as display pieces. With shared enthusiasm, they learned how to attract and keep a loyal clientele.

“All of our business training has been on the job,” they said.

“We doubled our volume every year for the first seven years,” Tom told me. In 1984, a developer invited them to move their business to downtown Bangor.

Their first downtown location was across from a couple of restaurants on Franklin Street. People shopped while they waited for a table, and the hostess would call into the store, “So-and-so, party of two! Your table’s ready.”

In the late 1980s they moved the business into a two-story space on Main Street. Women’s clothing was on the second floor, men’s on the first. On the first floor there was a full-sized pool table, and the second floor was a gathering place.

“It almost became like a club,” said Cindi. “Women came to the second floor to have coffee and tea and just hang out together.”

Twelve years ago the Cavanaughs decided to downsize, and they moved to their current location at 115 Main St. They gutted and renovated their third store space with their usual eye for aesthetics.

The concept of a high-quality men’s and women’s clothier feels almost old-fashioned today. But Tom and Cindi shun the idea of appearing “old,” and the fresh look and feel of their place reflects that attitude.

A traditional, family-run business such as the Cavanaughs’ offers something that is disappearing from most U.S. neighborhoods. I heard Cindi take a phone call from a woman asking what kind of hat would go with a dress she had purchased at Bib and Tucker. A more poignant example of that personal touch took place during my visit. It is hard to imagine this scene taking place in a mall department store:

A woman walked in with her son, a strapping young man about to graduate from high school that evening.

“We need pants, a shirt and tie,” she said.

Tom recognized them. In no time, he looked up the son’s measurements in his card file and took him over to the racks to pick something out. The mother sat wearily in a soft wing chair and said something about the loss of her boy’s dress clothes.

“Did he misplace them?” Cindi asked.

“Well, actually, our house just burned down. No one was hurt, thank God, but everything is gone …” and she began to cry, apologizing.

Cindi chatted with her, and she relaxed while Tom helped her son find the necessary clothes. The pants needed altering, so Tom called a tailor and arranged for a quick hemming job. Mother and son left for the tailor’s, not only outfitted, but relieved and comforted.

My own mother/son visit to Best Bib and Tucker four years ago was less emotional, but equally uplifting. My son has even returned once or twice on his own initiative, knowing that he would get the guidance he needed.

It is gratifying to see the next generation learn that there are still pockets of commerce where work is an avocation and customers are more than their wallets.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

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