By Debra Bell
Of the Weekly Staff
When it comes to helping Maine people find clothes that will wear well and last, Best Bib and Tucker owners Tom and Cindi Cavanaugh have plenty of experience.
Specifically, 40 years of experience.
That’s because the store started out of the Cavanaughs’ home in Winterport in 1973 now it is one of the oldest businesses in Bangor’s downtown. During its 40-year history, Best Bib and Tucker has existed in five locations. The first, home-based store sold Governor Longley T-shirts designed by Tom and pinafore and caboodle aprons.
Soon the couple acquired the old Winterport Post Office location and opened up shop there while living above it. Next, the store moved to Bangor in 1984, starting on Franklin Street, then moving to 30 Main St., then settling at its current location at 115 Main St., next to one of downtown Bangor’s youngest stores, Valentine Footwear.
Throughout the years, the store’s vision has remained the same: to build relationships with its customers.
“Our customer is trusting us,” Tom said. “That is the main reason why we still love this. It’s a relationship with people, not just a numerical print out.”
In a series of boxes behind the counter are tags organized alphabetically. Those tags are a visual and tangible record of the customers’ purchase history.
“If we sell something and alter it, we keep record on what they bought, what size it was, and how we altered it,” Cynthia said.
Those records are something the customers of Best Bib and Tucker have come to find comfort in. But beyond that, their intricate records allow the couple to be hands-on.That hands-on service is a mark of a mom and pop business — and March 29 is National Mom and Pop Business Appreciation Day.
“We really are one-on-one with the people who support us,” Tom said. “You have to be when you’re a small business. It’s your best way to compete; to gain a trust factor. They come back because they know it’s going to be easy for them.”
Best Bib and Tucker specializes in better clothing for men and women. And the store is the last professional menswear stores north of Portland.
But “better” isn’t just a gimmick; it’s the truth for Best Bib and Tucker. For instance, there are two ways traditionally used to finish clothing: fusing (using hot glue to close seams) and basting. According to Tom, fusing can start to break down after several dry cleaning visits and create small ripples in the clothing. Basting, or “floating seams,” are used in higher quality garments. Best Bib & Tucker only sells garments that are basted.
The mark of a quality store, the couple said, is the willingness of the staff to educate and assist customers in choosing the right pieces.
Another tip Tom offered was to start with the shoulders when fitting jackets and shirts, and to start on fitting pants around the butt and thighs. Everything else can be adjusted.
“Our customers appreciate the education because they become loyal,” he said. “If it doesn’t feel good on you, it’s not worth the money.”
But service doesn’t stop at the end of the sale, according to the Cavanaughs. Service continues in assisting customers in fitting their garments, choosing accessories, and providing insight into what will look best with a given outfit. Best Bib and Tucker also works with a local tailor and seamstress to ensure that what they sell their customers fits perfectly.
And every detail is documented for future reference.
“The more big the world becomes, the more you need [a business like ours],” Cynthia said.
The couple, married for 45 years, still finds joy in working together professionally.
In fact, it was a fine clothing store that brought them together.
Cindi, a Yarmouth native, met Tom through his job at a Portland clothier. The Munjoy Hill native initially took Cindi out as a favor.
After 10 “favors,” the pair were officially dating, and aside from Tom being drafted in their early years, they have been together ever since.
Tom finished his art education degree at the University of Maine and worked for a while as an art teacher in Veazie’s K-8 school system. In fact, he established Veazie’s art program.
So it would come as no surprise that the Bangor store is organized with an artist’s eye. Walk in, and you will be greeted by a wall of ties in vibrant colors. Look around, and wooden crates display clothing and accessories in eye appealing ways. Photographs, paintings, and birds accent the cozy store and its made-in-America stock.
And while their friends are starting to retire, the Cavanaugh’s are happy where they are.
“It’s a marriage of joy,” Tom said. “We’ve met a lot of people over the years, and they’ve become like family. We don’t have Thanksgiving dinner with them, but we have the rest of the relationship.”