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He has decked them out in poodle skirts, bell-bottoms, disco duds, and everything in between, all the while maintaining a fashion-plate appearance himself.
But now, at age 71, Shelbyville's beloved clothing merchant, Billy Andriot, is retiring and closing one of the oldest, continuous, family-operated enterprises in Shelby County.
"I was sitting there one day, looking around at how people dress, and I realized that what I think is proper is no longer proper," Andriot said. "I just decided that I can't sell the kind of things that people wear today, so I better go out with dignity. You just have to know when you're a dinosaur and when to ride off into the sunset."
His rueful chuckle trailed off into a melancholy sigh.
"I've sold clothes for fifty-six years, since I was fourteen years old, and Saturday is my last day," he said wistfully. "I can't believe that many years have passed. I've had some wonderful customers who have turned into dear friends. Yesterday, I had two people from Texas call just to wish me well, and today a man from Florida called and said he doesn't know what he's going to do now about buying clothes. And I thought, 'He passes two thousand stores on the way up here, and he doesn't know where he's going to shop now.'
“But it made me feel good, really special. I sure will miss them."
When Andriot closes up W Cromwell in the gallery at Science Hill after 32 years in business there, it will seem like losing a family member, said Pat Burnett, president of the Wakefield-Scearce Gallery, which owns the building.
"He's like family, him and Geri both, and we're sad about losing him, but we're happy for him, too," he said. "He's got grandchildren, so he'll be able to spend more time with them. Plus he's a golfer, so he'll be able to play more. And he loves to work in his yard, so I'm sure he'll have a lot to do to keep him busy. But if he get's bored, he can just come back."
Burnett talked about the love that has grown for Andriot, not just in the community, but all over the country.
"He's built up a tremendous clientele base over the years," he said. "He's going to be sorely missed. They're both wonderful people, and we wish them well in their retirement."
Burnett referred to both the Andriots, because Geri Andriot, who has owned and operated the adjacent Country Lady at the gallery for 36 years, also plans to retire next year.
"We decided it was just too much for both of us to retire at once," Billy Andriot said.
He added that he has been having a going-out-of-business sale for the past month and what's left after Saturday he plans to donate to the Vietnam veterans of Shelby County.
"They are a wonderful group of people that we need to be more proud of," he said.
After that, he and his wife will move some of her stock into his former store and sell it at reduced prices until the end of the year, hoping to sell most of it before she retires in January.
"We'll probably call it [the W Cromwell space] the Country Lady Annex," he said, with a chuckle.
Andriot said he is proud of the legacy he has left in the community, that is, helping to mold not only peoples' fashion sense, but also helping to enhance their sense of pride.
"Image is so important – it projects success," he said. "Dressing well makes you feel good, and it's really not about having money, it's free to keep yourself clean and well groomed, even if you only have one good suit. If you take a guy and put a nice suit and tie on him, he could be an idiot, but people will not question his authority because they think he knows something, that is, until he opens his mouth,
He chuckled again. "You could take a brilliant man and put him in a T-shirt and shorts, and he's already lost a little bit of respect off the front end. It just goes to show that if you dress well and keep your mouth shut, you can go far."
Billy Andriot started in the clothing business as a teenager in 1950s, when he worked at Andriot’s, a men’s store that his father, William Sr., operated on Main Street for decades, many years in the area of the old Armstrong Hotel and Burley Theater. His brother, Bob, also worked there before venturing into carpeting and renovations.
When his father retired, Billy Andriot took over as the city’s foremost haberdasher, first moving a couple of doors down into the former Shelby Theater and then continuing at Science Hill, where W Cromwell opened 32 years ago.
Out of all the fashions he's seen come and go, Andriot said his favorite era for selling fashionable men's attire was in the 1950s, when he worked for his father.
"Everybody dressed properly then,” he said. “The men wore hats and jackets and ties and women wore dresses, and even more importantly, people had manners. And most of the clothes were made in America. The styles were all very fashionable, and it was just a fabulous era."
His least favorite era for fashion?
"Today, unquestionably," he said.
"People are sloppy today. They can't even pull their pants up. Young people expose everything they've got – it doesn't hurt to advertise, but you don't have to show all your products. I have seen some young people starting to enjoy dressing well again, and I hope that maybe, just maybe, this thing will turn around, and they will quit all the tattooing and putting earrings in their noses and eyebrows and private parts – and that they'll realize they can wear both polka dots and stripes, just not at the same time."
Andriot said he doesn't know who will come after him and rent the space his store occupied once he and Geri have vacated the premises, but he hopes they will measure up to the standards he has set.
Burnett said he hopes for that, too.
"We have had a few inquiries, but you have to have the right fit," he said.
Andriot said he really hates to leave his shop and his customers and friends, but he said he realizes it's the right course of action for him to take, so he can spend more time with his family, including his wife, two daughters, Annie and Raegan, and his seven grandchildren.
"When I hit my seventy-first birthday, I sat down in my shop and cried like a little baby," he said. "I thought, 'If I don't get cancer or have a heart attack, I may have ten or twelve years left. Because whether you admit it or not, that's the fact, and that's not very long. It's time to be with the people I love the most."