Don Rhoda grew up in a fashion-conscious family.
His father, Edward Rhoda, was employed at a men’s clothing store in Jamestown before starting his own haberdashery, Edward’s, in the 1950s.
Don accompanied his father to work on weekends and holidays: “He would give me small tasks to do, stacking hat boxes, organizing shirts. Minimal kinds of things.”
Though Don always had an interest in clothing, he initially didn’t have designs on making a career of it. He studied psychology, but after graduating from college he wasn’t sure of his future plans, so he joined his father’s business.
Shortly thereafter, Don’s father heard about a Rochester-area clothing store that was closing. The pair went to Pittsford to check out the giant barn structure on the corner of Monroe Avenue and Clover Street.
“At that time, Monroe Ave. was only a two-lane highway and there wasn’t much around it, an empty field and a red barn,” Don explained.
The suburban location deterred Don, but his father had the foresight to recognize Pittsford’s potential.
“Trust me,” he told his son, “this is going to be a hot spot. This is going to be the hub of Monroe County in not too long.”
Don heeded his father’s advice and opened The Red Barn Fine Apparel in 1964. Strictly a men’s clothing store, the shop carried a full line of suits, shirts, sweaters, slacks and shoes.
At the time, men’s stores were plentiful in the Rochester area, but Red Barn nevertheless managed to earn a number of high-profile clients, including presidents of Kodak, Bausch & Lomb and Xerox (as well as the occasional senator).
The store also proved the clothier of choice for many other businessmen and Monroe County residents.
“Those were the days when people really dressed up and enjoyed dressing up,” Don reminisced.
But as times changed and haberdasheries began to wane, Rhoda adapted his business model, adding a ladies’ department and a boys’ department in the 1970s. He opened an additional store at Marketplace Mall the same decade.
Don’s son, Ed, began learning the ropes at the mall in the 1980s, before graduating to the flagship store, which moved from its original location to Pittsford Plaza the following decade.
Though Red Barn’s men’s department carries the same kind of products Rhoda offered in the 1960s, their origins (and style) have changed considerably.
“When I first started, if you didn’t carry American products or English products, you probably weren’t a good store.” Now, Rhoda claims that about 80 percent of his wares hail from Italy. He and his son make yearly trips to Europe to take stock of the latest trends.
These international excursions have their appeal, but Don maintains that his favorite aspect of the business is his relationships with Red Barn customers, some of whom are the now grown children of his original clients.
He also takes pride in the familial feel of his staff, which includes his wife and son, and long-time employees.
After 51 years in business, Don still strives for the best quality products at the best prices but he maintains that, “in the end, it’s more about friendships and long-term relationships.”
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