Caymanian clothing store Arabus Boutique closed its doors on New Year’s Eve after 49 years of operation in downtown George Town.
For the store’s founder, 73-year-old Edward ‘Solly’ Solomon, it was a sad occasion.
Established in 1970 and known for selling high-end international designer clothing with unique Caribbean flair for men and women, it was also a popular meeting place for many.
The closure came after years of losses as the store struggled to compete with online shopping, Solomon said.
“For me, closing the shop is very painful. Even talking about it makes me feel so sad,” he said as he watched his longtime friend Sheila Rickard close the boxes on the last of the store’s garments, which he plans to donate to the Humane Society Thrift Shop.
“It’s what I did all my life, and to just abandon it … it’s not a very good feeling,” Solomon said.
Glancing around the empty store, he said, “I am not happy to leave but I realise that sometime in my life, I would have to leave it – I guess now is a good time as any to leave it all behind.”
Solomon’s spirit brightened as he explained that, over the years, the store had had a good run and along the way he had met some interesting people and travelled to some interesting places.
“I had a good relationship with the clients. Cayman was a lot smaller by way of population those days. You knew everybody and people came when I got new stock and they would buy, and that is what you don’t get when you’re online or paging through a magazine,” Solomon said.
“Everybody is buying online these days. It’s really pathetic what’s happened; people are hardly buying from stores like mine anymore. Right in the middle of that, I decided I could not compete anymore. Sales were just dropping and dropping,” he said.
He had offered a storewide sale until his final day at the downtown location on Edward Street, the store’s final location.
Kerith McCoy, who had shopped at Arabus for more than four decades, was one of the dozens of shoppers who sifted through the last of the heavily discounted stock and offered Solomon his farewell.
“It’s sad to see an iconic store like Arabus close its doors, but I’m sure Edward will find something to do,” he said.
He recalled Solomon starting Arabus out of the back of his car in the late ‘60s. Around 1969, he had a store front in the old Selkirk Watler building, which is now the Royal Watler Terminal. In later years. he said, Solomon moved to the old West Wind Building on the waterfront, before moving to Edward Street.
“It was a little store-front cubicle. Those who were into fashion, or wanted to be in fashion, gravitated around Edward in his scene at Arabus,” McCoy said.
He recalled Solomon as always being a leader in the fashion industry in Cayman and having the best European clothing. “Many of my pay cheques for the month back in the day went to Arabus, and when I didn’t have [the money], he offered a pay-in-installments plan.”
Not only was it a place for fashion, he said, but a gathering place to hang out and see each other and hear Edward’s music and his musician friends.
“It hurts me to see institutions like Arabus close its doors. Online shopping has impacted a lot of store-front businesses in Cayman,” McCoy added.
Still, McCoy said, it makes him appreciate the era of Cayman he grew up in.
“Those days were vibrant; it had a great music scene – we had a lot to do, even though we had no television, but we were never bored. There were a lot of nightclubs and fun places to go in Arabus clothes,” he said.
His brother Harry McCoy Jr. said you were nobody until you were wearing an Arabus suit.
“The 70’s vintage men’s Nik-Nik Disco Shirt made in Italy and the vintage 1970s Faded Glory high-waisted bell bottom jeans and the Geoffrey Beene men’s suits and coat blazers were in style,” said Harry McCoy.
“Friday evening was the time to go Arabus and get all decked out,” he said.
Solomon says it’s time for retirement and he has plans to work for the church. “I’ve been open Monday through Saturday for 49 years. It’s remarkable. I’ve been in the store, six days a week.” He said the business allowed him to sell something he enjoyed. “I didn’t have any favourite pieces, line or designer, I just like quality clothes,” he said.
In the final weeks before closing, Solomon says friends and clients stopped in to reminisce about the pieces they had bought over the years.
Like most Caymanian men at the time, Solomon went to sea at age 17, and then went to New York to study at age 20. There, he found work in a high-end clothing store and that was where his love of clothes developed.
When he returned to Cayman, Solomon decided to open his own high-end store, offering quality clothing to Caymanians.