For the first time in more than 40 years, the Twin Cities is without any stores bearing the name Len Druskin.
It was a slow, sad, stumble to the end for the family retailer. The last of its discount fashion Len stores quietly closed last week at Mall of America, Southdale, Ridgedale and Rosedale centers. Only the City Center location remains under a new name: Shop the Runway. Inside, little has changed. But there’s a new owner, signaling the end to one of the Twin Cities most enduring and beloved (albeit tumultuous) family retailers.
The Star Tribune reported that Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC reality show “The Profit,” purchased all of Len’s inventory and fixtures. Lemonis told the Strib that the Len leases were in default and many vendors had not been paid. I reached company president Michael Druskin, who took over for his father's business nearly 20 years ago. He declined to comment at this time, saying only that he’d prefer to wait until the dust settles.
Len Druskin started his career at Southdale Center as shoe salesman at Bakers. He was a buyer for Dayton’s and then Donaldson’s department stores before opening his own boutique at 50th & France in 1976. It quickly became the place for women in need of special occasion dresses and stylish career apparel. The Len Druskin store moved to the Galleria in the early 1990s, and as the era of dressing up waned, Michael breathed new life into the brand by shifting from dresses to denim. Len Druskin was one of the first stores in town to embrace premium denim. There was a time when the fitting room line would be 10 deep with women clutching armfuls of $200 Seven for all Mankind and Hudson jeans.
But as denim became pervasive, and other upscale contemporary brands became more readily available at department stores, fast fashion became the more appealing price point. Post-recession, Michael introduced lower prices, which gave birth to the Len concept. He expanded aggressively, including a store in suburban Chicago. At its peak, there were 11 stores in the Len Druskin portfolio. In addition to the moderately priced Len, where everything was always 50 percent off, there was the Len outlet, and a Len clearance center. At one time, there were also three different premium Len Druskin stores in Gaviidae Center alone, all with different names. It got confusing, which Michael came to acknowledge. He tried to streamline, but it seems it was too late. When the flagship Len Druskin store moved to Southdale last year, and closed just a few months later, it was perhaps the final nail in the coffin. The magic was gone, and so was the trend forward curation and local touch that once made this a favorite boutique.
It makes me sad for Len, the consummate salesman, who has been a constant fixture in our retail scene for more than half a century. I can’t think of another storeowner more present, more customer service focused, more enthusiastic about working a sales floor—even on a Saturday in July. He deserved a proper farewell—not a store boarded up overnight. I hope the retail community finds a way to celebrate his decades of service and the countless shoppers whose wardrobes he improved and confidence he boosted.
And I hope this break allows the ever-ambitious Michael Druskin to take a breath and refocus his creative energy. The Len Druskin name was not part of this sale, and I would not be surprised if we see it back on a store awning in the future. I only hope that if we do, it is carefully executed, with reverence for the service and specialization that once made the store a destination.