What could very likely be the oldest second-hand clothing store in the country is shutting its doors after 122 years.
Keezer’s, a Cambridge institution that counts generations of Harvard professors, students, and notable alumni, including John F. Kennedy, as customers, is slated to end its long run selling men’s formal wear and dress clothes on the cheap on July 1. Owner Len Goldstein said that after nearly 40 years working six days a week, he is ready to retire.
“This is my 79th semester at Harvard. I’ve been in retail my whole life; my lower back hurts, my neck hurts,” said Goldstein, 64. “I’ve never been to Europe, I missed out on my kids growing up, I’m missing my grandkids growing up. It’s time.”
Goldstein said he sold the single-story red wood frame building on River Street outside Central Square to billionaire businessman Gerald Chan, who has spent millions over the past five years amassing Harvard Square properties. Records show the property was sold to a limited liability company for $2.35 million earlier this year.
There is a chance Keezer’s the store could survive his retirement. Goldstein is trying to sell the business and said he has three interested buyers. And an executive at Chan’s company raised the prospect of a new owner staying in that location.
“We love Keezer’s, too, so if he sells his business, we’d be open to keeping retail here,” said Paula Turnbull, an officer of the Chan business.
The store was founded in 1895 by Max Keezer, an immigrant from Holland. Goldstein bought it in 1978 when it was still in Harvard Square. He was three years out of college and working odd jobs when he heard the current owner was planning to retire.
“I had the same amount of money in the bank as I had in college loans, and had to do a scale: I could pay off my college loans, but then what? Or, I could buy a business and maybe fail but I didn’t think I would fail. So I bought it. I was 25,” Goldstein said. “So here I am, almost 40 years later.”
His mother cosigned a $2,000 loan so Goldstein could buy inventory. Goldstein was no stranger to retail, having gotten his start when he was a kid making change and later learning inventory at a liquor store his family owned in Chelsea.
Keezer’s moved to its current location in the mid 1980s. Among the customers dressed by Goldstein were Conan O’Brien when he was at the Harvard Lampoon, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.
Keezer’s has long had a reputation for bailing out last-minute shoppers in need of formal wear; it’s not uncommon, Goldstein said, for grooms to come in on the day of their wedding looking for a tux.
One well-circulated account contends that while at Harvard, Kennedy would send his valet to Keezer’s to sell his clothing for spending money, Goldstein said. Another old story is that Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a customer while at Harvard, “but I can’t substantiate that one,” Goldstein said.
Ben Levy, a bassist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has shopped at Keezer’s for 13 years for all “the odd things I need to wear,” including tuxedos with tails, and white cummerbunds and ties for evening concerts, as well as summer whites for Tanglewood. He’s tried Amazon, but the website doesn’t match Keezer’s selection.
“When I would go to Keezer’s I would buy in bulk: one or two jackets, four, five, or six dress shirts, and several pairs of pants,” Levy said, adding he’s not sure where he’ll go once the shop closes. “When I heard that they were closing, it was the absolute worse thing to hear.”Katheleen Conti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.