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About Utah: Utahn's passion becomes his profession for Brooks Brothers

Published: Sunday, March 18 2012 10:03 p.m. MDT

As workers compete the finishing touches, John Barraclough anticipates the opening of the new Brooks Brothers store.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

Top list: City Creek Center shops and stores

City Creek Center photo gallery: A view from demolition to construction in downtown Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — A lot of people are eagerly awaiting the opening this week of the City Creek Center, the billion-dollar-plus downtown mall project that's been a decade in the making.

But probably none any more than John Barraclough.

So who's John Barraclough? The project architect? The man at the bank who okayed the loan? The guy who's going to cut the ribbon?

Nope. He's the made-to-measure suit manager at City Creek's new Brooks Brothers store.

You've got your passion, Barraclough has his. It can be summed up in two words: Brooks Brothers.

Don't scoff. At 55, John doesn't need to work. He retired eight years ago when the company he was working for, Time Warner, merged with AOL and the stock dividends worked in his favor. That and some prudential family investing allowed him to form a family humanitarian trust called Airline Ambassadors.

Since 2005 he has spent the bulk of his time ferrying clothes, books, toys, blankets, wheelchairs and other goods and materials into orphanages, hospitals, schools and prisons in Central and South America. A most worthwhile experience he cheerfully confides has "made a big difference" in his life.

But last fall, while traveling in Seattle, he heard a piece of news that caused him to take an employment detour.

He was shopping in the Seattle Brooks Brothers store, a not unusual activity for John. For the past 30 years, wherever he travels, if there's a Brooks Brothers in town, he's there.

It all goes back to 1982, when he landed an internship in New York City after getting a bachelor's degree from BYU and an MBA from USC.

After eight weeks interning for a film distribution company headquartered in the heart of midtown, at 45 Rockefeller Center, the company offered John a full-time position. When John accepted, his boss announced that he was going to get him "properly outfitted" for Manhattan.

To this point, John had been content wearing the double-knit, polyester two-pant suit that had seen him through his two-year LDS mission in Venezuela.

They walked to 346 Madison Avenue — Brooks Brothers' Manhattan headquarters.

Half an hour later, John walked out with an armful of new cotton shirts, a lightweight summer suit and an assortment of new silk ties.

John didn't just like the way he looked, he loved the way he looked.

Wearing Brooks Brothers clothes became his trademark. After he left Manhattan, first to work for Novell in Provo, then to Time Warner in Los Angeles, he didn't leave Brooks Brothers behind. Whenever he traveled on business, his hobby was locating the nearest Brooks Brothers.

He became a walking Brooks Brothers fount of knowledge. He can tell you that Barack Obama wore a Brooks Brothers suit to his inauguration — and so did John Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt. He can tell you Brooks Brothers introduced the button-down collar to America in 1896.

And he can tell you that Brooks Brothers is America's oldest retailer. The company was founded in 1818. People have been buying Brooks Brothers clothes for 194 years, nonstop.

But for John, there was always a void. There was no Brooks Brothers in his hometown. When he moved back to Salt Lake in 2005 to start the family humanitarian foundation, he felt like he was abandoning an old friend.

In that visit last September to the Seattle Brooks Brothers, as he stacked his shirts and ties on the counter, he explained to the store manager he was stocking up because there wasn't a store in Salt Lake City, where he lives.

"Well there will be soon," he was told.

John was so thrilled to learn that America's oldest retailer was coming to the City Creek Center that he sent a letter of congratulations to Brooks Brothers management. In it, he mentioned his history with the brand and offered to help with "the launch" in his hometown.

Brooks Brothers wrote back with another idea. How about coming to work for us?

John wasn't looking for a job, but the more he mulled it over the more he warmed to the idea. Especially when the company asked him to run the made-to-measure suit desk?

"Who goes into retail at 55?" he asks.

But he asks it with a smile. Because he said yes.

"I get to introduce the Brooks Brothers brand to my hometown. How great is that?" says John. "Of course my family and friends are having a great time razzing me about my obsession. But I'm used to that. And I don't mind. I can't believe how excited I am about this happening."

Starting Thursday, his passion becomes his profession.

Top list: City Creek Center shops and stores

City Creek Center photo gallery: A view from demolition to construction in downtown Salt Lake City

Story: Macy's anchoring City Creek Center

Story: Nordstrom focuses on special features for new downtown store

Historical photo gallery: Historic Eagle Gate a prominent Salt Lake landmark

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Historical photo gallery: Downtown Salt Lake City thrived as shopping mecca for century

Historical photo gallery: Salt Lake streets have seen many changes over past 150 years

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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