In good times and in bad: Modern Men's Wear in Gander closes

One of the longest-standing businesses in Gander has closed.

Decades-old formal wear shop has a long history of stories

Frances Tizzard with the last of her stock at Modern Men's Wear in Gander. (Leigh Anne Power)

One of the longest-standing businesses in Gander has closed.

Modern Men's Wear has sold wedding and graduation dresses, tuxedos and suits for 50 years. 

Current owner Frances Tizzard has worked at the store for the last 45 of those years, but she's had some health problems and decided it was time to retire when nobody came forward to buy the business.

Tizzard says during her decades in the shop, she's been there for the best days — and sometimes the worst — of people's lives.

"I feel great that I've done what I've done, and I've pleased a lot of people," she said.

More than just a dress shop

The shop wasn't just a place to rent a tuxedo or try on a prom dress. People shared their stories here too, and there was a story behind every dress or suit.

Tizzard doesn't remember all of them, but some stay with her.

"She had just moved to a new foster home," she recalled of the day a girl who'd been going through a difficult time came into the store.

"And the foster mother brought her in to try a dress on. The child might have been 90 pounds. The foster mother really wanted something pretty for her. So, of course, we picked out a big, flouncy dress. When she put it on, she looked in the mirror and said, 'I'm pretty.'"

Tizzard says picking out that fancy dress was likely the first time her young customer felt her own worth.

"The child had been beaten up. It was a real sad, sad thing. But she wanted to be a nurse. Her marks were fabulous. She ended up, through the foster mother and the foster mother's family who supported this child, going into nursing."

When she put it on, she looked in the mirror and said, 'I'm pretty.'- Frances Tizzard

Then there was the story of the bride battling cancer.

"It was absolutely beautiful. There wasn't a hair on the lady's head, where she had her medication and all that," she said.

"She looked at herself and she was so enthused that she had a wedding dress on and she was getting married. I thought, how cool is that?"

Bullies in the dressing room

Not all the stories were so touching. Sometimes customers could be difficult. 

"You just smile, no matter what," Tizzard said about how she dealt with those clients. "Keep smiling. And then when you're in the car and you're driving down the road by yourself, then you let loose!"

Just a few wedding gowns and suits remained at Modern Men's Wear in Gander after the closing-out sale. (Leigh Anne Power)

And she never tolerated one-upmanship or bullying in her store. 

"I've only had one real run-in with a bunch of kids one time, and I banned the school from taking pictures because of a bullying situation in Grade 12, which I thought was terrible," she recalled. 

"Friction. Not great. So I turned around and I told everyone from that school — I said, 'I'm really sorry but this year you won't be able to take pictures of trying on grad dresses.' And you know what? They waited the full year and didn't take pictures. And if someone snuck a picture, my hand came into the fitting room and I said, 'Phone, please. NOW.'"

Service will be missed 

In the last few weeks, customers have been browsing through the depleted racks of the closing-out sale.

Angie Greenham shopped at Modern Men's Wear when she got married 19 years ago, and she came back to outfit her son, who's about to graduate from high school.

"I, for one, am going to miss it because I liked coming in," she said.  "This is where I bought my wedding dress. This is where we got our bridesmaid things. And in 25 years, we're planning on doing it again and coming back here."

She knows that won't happen now.

"So when it came to graduation for my son for this year, I was really counting on this store. I don't want to travel from Twillingate area to Clarenville. And I don't want to go to Grand Falls-Windsor because it is a longer distance. By closing this store, you're taking away an option, and I don't know what the limits are on the other stores. "   

Modern Men's Wear in Gander closed Friday. (Leigh Anne Power)

Frances Tizzard is moving to St.John's, but said she expects to still need a fancy dress once in a while.  

"I will probably go to a bridal shop in St.John's when I really need a fix," she laughed.

"That's probably what I'll do. When I took a vacation in the States, I used to go to a friend's place. She had a bridal shop, and I'd just go in for a little while. I was fine after!" 

The lights went out on the taffeta and chiffon, veils and vests remaining on the racks of Modern Men's Wear at closing time Friday, five days before what would have been its 51st anniversary.