The Earle, originally started by the Earle family in the late 1960s, has become the longest standing men’s store in Owensboro. The original store was located in the Thatch Shopping Center, but moved to the Executive Inn Rivermont, rebranding to the Earle of Rivermont.
The Earle family sold their business in 1986 to long term employee David Epling. But Epling’s history in men’s fashion goes beyond the Earle, dating back to his college days at Kentucky Wesleyan College and working at The Coachman, which was located in Wesleyan Park Plaza.
“I was probably making $1.60 an hour plus commission,” Epling recalls while remembering his beginning days working in the men’s store. “That was with being the top salesman and beating all the other guys that worked there for awhile.”
The Earle of Rivermont moved to Wesleyan Park Plaza in 2000. Just as the locations of The Earle would change throughout the years, so would the consumer’s options. However, the timeless styles of men’s fashions, including essentials, would remain.
“Back in the ’70s, there were five or six men’s stores in downtown Owensboro. If you wanted socks or a pair of underwear you had to physically go into the stores.” Epling said. “It was the only place you could buy men’s items. Obviously, you couldn’t buy online and there weren’t department stores like there are now.”
The Earle has been very open to new men’s stores developing in recent years and understands the importance shopping local has on Owensboro.
“I think it’s great. I think it just keeps more people in town shopping, and we certainly can’t carry everything,” Epling said. “Competition is good, but I think our biggest competitor is honestly online.”
Epling and his team keep up with trends in men’s fashion and designers in large part from the market, which he frequents in New York City, Chicago and occasionally Atlanta. But he attributes his store’s success to something other than fashion.
“Customer service. We carry great clothing, but it really boils down to taking care of the customer,” Epling said. “Guys get pretty frustrated pretty fast if they try things on and they don’t fit. Using our product knowledge and expertise, we can look at them and give them the proper fit.”
The Earle is a full-service store, with a full-time alterations department in the back and can tailor garments for the perfect fit. Unlike traditional department stores, all of their pants come in unfinished and are custom tailored to fit the client’s preferences.
Twenty-three-year-old Brescia University graduate and full-time employee Cameron Robinson has seen Epling’s key to success firsthand.
“His passion for it — the man doesn’t’ stop working,” Robinson said. “If anybody in Owensboro wants to look up to someone or learn from someone that truly has a passion for something, they just need to look at David Epling. He loves clothes, but more importantly, he loves people.”
Robinson hopes to continue working with Epling, using this passion to keep The Earle around for years to come.
“It’s ultimately my goal to take over the business. I’m not going to do it until he’s ready to retire and I’m completely comfortable with it,” Robinson said. “I obviously want to learn as much from him as I can. He’s so respected by our customers and our community, and I want to carry on that knowledge, customer service and respect.”
Robinson, a self-proclaimed old soul, is looking forward to inspiring a younger generation in men’s fashion.
“If you ask any of my friends or family, they would say I’m an 80-year-old stuck in a 20-year-old’s body,” Robinson said. “I love the 1940’s and 50’s when everyone was dressed nicely in suits when they went out. I think when you dress nicely you have a better sense of yourself and I think you feel better and look more presentable.”
Robinson sees the possibility of The Earle expanding at some point, possibly into different markets in the surrounding cities. He and his fiancee, also an alumnus of Brescia, have made Owensboro home with a desire to be a part of the city’s growth.
“The Earle has been around a long time and I don’t think there is any reason it should be gone any time soon,” Robinson said. “It is ultimately my goal to keep this going and give back to the community that has given so much to me.”
The store, located at 2660 Frederica St., can be reached by calling 270-684-3111 or visiting their website.