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Francis Barry of Dorchester wears the scally cap he just bought at Jones Department Store.
Francis Barry of Dorchester wears the scally cap he just bought at Jones Department Store. (Mark Wilson/ Globe Staff)

Southie store gives up the fight

As times and fashions change, 'Joneseez' on Broadway packs up its sneakers and scally caps

It's where James "Whitey" Bulger bought his pants in the 1970s, where members of New Kids on the Block went looking for scally caps, and where Hollywood costume directors browsed the aisles to achieve that certain "Southie look."

But like the Nike Cortez sneakers, Champion sweatshirts, and Girbaud jeans still on its racks, the Jones Department Store has fallen out of style after 67 years on Broadway in South Boston.

After three years in the red, the store has sold most of its inventory and is planning to shut down for good in a few weeks, the victim of suburban shopping malls, new fashion trends, and what longtime neighborhood residents bemoan as "the yuppification of Southie."

"Fashion just isn't what it used to be," lamented Nancy Dapkas , the store manager who has worked there for 13 years. "My time was in the '70s, and you dressed to the nines. You wouldn't dare leave the house in sweatpants and flip-flops like people do now."

"That's right," store owner Jerry Hersch said yesterday . "These days, people pay $200 for jeans with holes in them."

This department store -- with a simple "Jones" atop the storefront and known to locals as "Joneseez" -- has been a neighborhood icon for decades, Southie's answer to Filene's in Downtown Crossing and Mike's Pastry in the North End.

Directors from "Good Will Hunting," "Mystic River," and "The Departed" left with bags of costume clothes, and tourists bought outfits for the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Southie fashion has evolved over the years, but has included Adidas polyester gym suits with buttons down the side of the pants; barracuda jackets, worn inside out; farmer overalls, one strap on and one off; and Girbaud jeans, which had a white label on the fly and were severely tapered.

Actor Mark Wahlberg , wearing sunglasses and shaggy hair, came into the store about two years ago with a posse of beefy men. He paid $300 for green and white shell-toe Adidas shoes, T-shirts, and a scally cap that he was shown wearing in a US Weekly photo a few months later.

Other regulars have included state Representative Brian P. Wallace; the wives of state Senator Jack Hart and US Representative Stephen F. Lynch; and Mayor Thomas M. Menino's son.

But the kitsch value of having tourists and local celebrities drop by didn't bring in enough cash.

As the neighborhood began to change, the store lost the regulars who cashiers knew by name and who picked up a dress shirt and slacks, or an embroidered pillow for their baby's first Communion.

Many longtime Southie residents decry the changes in their neighborhood, saying the community identity is shifting from the taverns and pizza shops on Broadway to the hotels and restaurants along the waterfront.

Many natives have started referring to the young professionals moving in to scoop up the condos and drive up the prices as DINKs, which stands for Double Income, No Kids.

"The new people, they aren't invested in the town," Hersch said. "Our customer base was the Southie people. Once the new people came in, they didn't know us from a hole in the wall."

Among the businesses that want to open in its place, he said, are an art gallery, a restaurant, or LaundroMutt, where owners can wash their dogs in stainless-steel tubs.

George Kuritz, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, opened Jones Department Store in 1940. According to family lore, Kuritz wanted to name it "John's," after his brother, but the sign maker misunderstood his thick accent. The sign came back as "Jones," and the name stuck.

In 1947, Kuritz moved the store from West Broadway to its current location, the corner of East Broadway and K streets.

Hersch, who worked at the store in the 1970s and '80s, bought the business in 1997. Several years ago, he downsized, renting space out next door to a 7-Eleven that now does more business than his own store.

Customers were sparse yesterday , quietly browsing the half-empty aisles, which now offer polyester pants, shoe polish, and vintage Rabhor men's pajamas.

"I've been shopping here forever, since I was a kid," said Joe Driscoll , 28, recalling the Notre Dame jacket he bought for school. "Everyone always knew -- go to Joneseez. It's gonna be weird when it's gone."

One older woman came in looking for the white socks she always buys -- "I just like them better than the gold-toe ones," she said -- but found they'd already sold out, and left the store without buying anything.

"There was so much around here," said Jack Hanney , 51, who spent $64.27 on three shirts, two pairs of shorts, a hat, a dress, and a pair of shoes. "Now it's like everywhere else. The malls came in and ruined it."

"It's sad," he told Hersch. "I'm sorry to see ya's go."

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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