BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘I started working here when I was eight,’ recalls Paul Brombal with a chuckle. ‘For ham and cheese sandwiches from Dutch Toko.’ His brother Marc, fitting a customer with a sport jacket some distance behind us, takes note and quips: ‘Musta been a good sandwich.’ The customer, Wellington Brewery President Brent Davies, cracks a grin as the Brombal siblings get into it. After all, it’s business as usual here at Sidonio’s for Men and Art of Denim – a duo of upscale clothing stores on the outskirts of Guelph’s downtown core.
It’s a quiet Tuesday in March. Early afternoon. A perfect time for bosses and entrepreneurs to shop while folks tied to their desks are, well, tied to desks. As if on cue, local realtor (and Sidonio’s client since 1989) Hudson Smith comes dashing in. Paul’s quick to greet Hudson, and assures him that his new custom tailored suit is waiting for him. When I ask Hudson how many times he’s visited Sidonio’s over the years, he ponders for a second before answering, ‘Lots.’
‘Hudson’s a perfect example of our regular customer,’ Paul tells me later. ‘He’s self-employed, always in a hurry, and appreciates a one-stop shop where he can pull into our parking lot, grab something quick, and get back out there.’ He goes on: ‘We understand that time is money, and that our ability to curate fashion efficiently and effectively is what keeps our clients coming back.’ As they have been doing for some forty years now.
‘It was 1978 when our dad, Sid, started the business where Old Quebec Street mall is located now,’ Paul remarks. ‘When the mall was built in 1984, Sidonio’s was one of its original tenants. When we opened Art of Denim, a more casual clothing and accessories business for men and women, it was in the mall too.’ This was a period Paul remembers fondly. ‘I was tasked with guarding product during sidewalk sales,’ he recalls. ‘It wasn’t long, though, before I was helping customers – and I wasn’t yet ten.’ Mark adds: ‘When I was five I told my kindergarten teacher I wanted to work in clothing when I grew up.’ He worked alongside Marc and Sid during his teenage years, college days, and ever since.
Now that the Brombal brothers are all grown up (and Sid has hung up his measuring tape) they’ve taken the opportunity to put their own stamp on the business – beginning with their move from a street front shop on Wyndham (where Sidonio’s and Art of Denim relocated from the mall in 2002) to a stunning century building at the edge of downtown. ‘I always wanted to move the business into a large historic building,’ Paul says. ‘With parking,’ he adds, chuckling. ‘This place,’ he continues, motioning his arms into the brightly-lit space, ‘was originally built as an all-girls school in the mid-nineteenth century – not that you could tell when we purchased it in 2015.’ After a ton of restoration and renovation a couple years back, the brothers opened the new place. ‘We’re among the only remaining independent menswear retailers left in the region,’ Paul tells me, a tinge of lamentation in his voice. ‘And certainly the only one in Guelph.’
I look around the tidy room. Racks of jackets, pants and full suits surround me. I recognize some of the labels. Hugo Boss. Pal Zileri. Coppley. In the adjoining room, Canada Goose jackets, AG Jeans and other lifestyle brands. Near the front desk, Loake (from England) and Lloyd (from Germany). ‘We
focus on elevated brands, and source Canadian product whenever available,’ Marc notes. ‘Our own private label is made in Canada – as are our made-to-measure and custom suits, belts, and ties. Customers appreciate it.’
Indeed, Sidonio’s customers appreciate many things. The product, of course. But also the knowledge about clothing and fashion that Paul and Marc have carried with them through the years and that box stores and online outlets can’t provide. ‘We provide our customers with experience, curation and personal service,’ Marc tells me. ‘That,’ he concludes thoughtfully, ‘is why we’re still here.’
186 Norfolk Street, Guelph