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Bring Back Carroll Reed, Bunny Says

December 2nd, 2007 · 39 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Whatever happened to Carroll Reed? It’s a question many East Coast folks have been asking since the ski-focused clothing chain shut down.

At one time, there were 54 stores. The Carroll Reed Ski Shops Inc. was started, not by some matronly woman, but by Carroll Purinton Reed, a clever entrepreneur who not only built the company but promoted skiing in the Northeast. He was instrumental in developing Mt. Cranmore as a ski destination and had a key role in promoting skiing in New England. He became involved in retailing with the department store Saks Fifth Avenue, which had a ski store (way cool idea, by the way) in North Conway. When that store was shut down, Reed re-opened the shop under his own name.

It grew to over 50 stores. Reed sold the chain in 1969. By 1985, it was owned by Charles M. Leighton’s CML Group, which also owned prep icon Boston Whaler and The Nature Company. CML sold the company to Swire Pacific in 1990. It was mostly downhill after that. Reed died in 1995. Apparently, Carroll Reed and the separate company Carroll Reed Ski Shops were even in rent disputes in Maine in 1994. (We would love to see what Harvard Business School prof Howard Stevenson thought about the brand, as it is one of his case studies.) It was later purchased by D.M. Management, which later became J. Jill, for just over $6 million.

Carroll Reed had a sad ending, with the company shutting it down in 1996. Reading the Securities and Exchange filings on the brand are pitiful, though it seems that J. Jill Group Inc. did try to sell the customer list and trademark. What is pitiful is that when President and C.E.O. Gordon Cooke issued his statement on the closing, he said that Carroll Reed’s targeting the younger and more “price conscious” market has not meshed well with its other brands. We wonder whether the brand had completely lost its focus, which was monied and had a wide spectrum of consumers. Targeting a price conscious market is a sure recipe for failure for such a brand.

Today, some of this ski history relating to the brand is being preserved by Jeremy Davis’ group NELSAP, which stands for the New England Lost Ski Areas Project. And Stan and Dan Sports, run by Stan Millen and Dan Lewis, two guys who worked at Carroll Reed, are keeping the legacy alive in North Conway. And places like the non-profit Gibson Center, which offers services to seniors, have a room named after Carroll and Kay Reed.

We caught up with style maven Heather “Bunny” Tomerlin for a quick couple of questions by email. Bunny, who is a columnist for the online blog of Men’s Vogue, recently featured a Carroll Reed red jacket on her self-named personal style blog. The idea we posed to her? How to bring back Carroll Reed. BrandlandUSA’s thought? Perhaps it might be a good brand for The Talbot’s to revive, as its partial menswear and ski and sport focus would help balance out other Talbot’s brands, that include J. Jill.

BrandlandUSA: What was so great about the Carroll Reed?
Tomerlin: Carroll Reed was an outstanding chain for skiwear and outerwear. When I think of the Carroll Reed brand, I think of classic women’s clothing, even though their catalog was about 10 percent menswear.

BrandlandUSA: Was there an essence to the brand?
Tomerlin: Yes, I believe there was and the essence was women who preferred enduring styles and had an eye for the emblems of quality and distinction. Frankly, I would say the preppy women of the Eastern Seaboard were the brand essence. The clothes bordered between cute and matronly.

BrandlandUSA: Was there a person who wore the brand that made it seem worthwhile?
Tomerlin: Well, I can’t think of one person who made the brand appealing, but the women who influenced my style of dress wore Carroll Reed. My mother and grandmother both wore the wool ski jackets as I still do today.

BrandlandUSA: What was the brand like during its last days?
Tomerlin: It had become a mostly mail order enterprise.

BrandlandUSA: What are some of your memories of the brand in its heyday?
Tomerlin: Well, I remember when my mother bought me my first ski sweater. We were going to Brattleboro, Vermont for Thanksgiving and stopped off in Westport, Connecticut to do a little shopping and there was a Carroll Reed store in Westport. Actually, she bought me two, one navy and one in creme. Another fond memory would be receiving the catalogs; they always had a beautiful New Hampshire landscape on the cover.

BrandlandUSA: If you were relaunching the brand, what would you do?
Tomerlin: Well, I guess I would open a few high-end retail stores. I would open them to test the markets in Boston, Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

BrandlandUSA: Who is the target market today? Is the target market of the old Carroll Reed the same target market that the new should have?
Tomerlin: The target market would be women between the ages of 25 to 65 who dress conservatively and economically but have the means to buy. I think the target market should be somewhat younger than before. The old Carroll Reed targeted women 40-65. The people who find the Carroll Reed Ski Shop brand charming are ageless.

More branding stories of interest:

Bunny Knows Her Brands
Revived Preppy Brands: Best's, Abercrombie
Garanimals Are Back. At Wal-Mart.
Stussy Makes Classic Status
Vera Brand Rebirth Moves into Housewares
Classic Vera Brand Gets Boost, Reboot from Target

Tags: Commentary · Fashion · Retail · Tourism

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Laurie Reed // Feb 12, 2008 at 1:07 am

    I could see a market in the Portland, Oregon area, perhaps at Bridgeport Shopping Center.

  • 2 Bunny Tomerlin, the Men's Vogue Blogger, Knows Good Brands | BrandlandUSA™ // Oct 21, 2008 at 9:36 am

    […] pageTracker._trackPageview(); ← Pennsy Hotel Fight Gathers Steam Bring Back Carroll Reed, Bunny Says […]

  • 3 Lilly Pulitzer in New York | BrandlandUSA™ // Nov 21, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    […] nine years. This is a good omen for those who wish for Burdine’s, Marshall Field’s and Carroll Reed to return. It can be done; in fact when there is a great story, it makes it […]

  • 4 Dagmar Logie // Nov 30, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I just came across some sterling silver earrings with the inscription “Carroll Reed” on the back side. The earrings are in the shape of snowflakes, which makes sense now that I know about the line of ski clothes. Obviously there was a line of jewlery by the Carroll Reed brand too. I received the earrings from my mother’s friend about 50 years ago when I was a teenager. Just wanted to share this with you!

  • 5 Ann Forsyth // Mar 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I know that there is a group of people out there who, with the revival of Carroll Reed shops, will come to love CR, as I did from the 50s through the 80s.

    When i first started skiing in NH (N. Conway) we were in college and traveled to North Conway on the ‘ski train ‘ – now that’s a memory from a long-ago past!!! After college, we continued to go to N. Conway and the CR store. We had apartments in the area. I bought all my ski equipment there over the years from boots, skis and all ski clothing to all kinds of velvet slacks and beautiful mohair and other lovely sweaters.

    I was pleased to see when we moved to Memphis 20 years ago that there was a CR store in the oak court mall. It is no longer there, and like so many others, Carroll Reed has since gone off the radar — — maybe. It should be revived. maybe J Jill can pick it up. They carry some nice classic styles. I am up in years now. My shape has lost its youthful appearance, but I still cherish the memories of shopping in the CR store in North Conway, NH

    Sincerely – Ann B. Forsyth

  • 6 Edwin Lawrence // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I agree, Carroll Reed’s clothings are special, I just accdentically burnt my wifes favourite blouse with abstract art and am seeking to find something from Carroll Reed to repalce it. The quality and endurance of the clothing is exceptional.

  • 7 Tod’s Knows What He’s Buying in Saks | // May 29, 2009 at 8:40 am

    […] into an old playbook to figure out a way to revive itself. In the 1950s, for instance, they had a ski shop in North Conway, New Hampshire, run by a fellow named Carroll Reed. Eventually he spun it off into his own store. Instead of just […]

  • 8 Bill Lynch // Jul 15, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Still have a strikingly handsome dark green “Christmas” felt fabric type blazer, fully lined with gold buttons. Used to shop in both Westport and North Conway when I dated a gal who worked on the catalog in North Conway. We’d hit Horsefeathers for a few after work. It doesn’t get any better than what Carrol Reed’s shop used to be, especially the one in NC.

  • 9 Kristen Lauer // Jul 28, 2009 at 7:11 am

    You can definately tell the quality! I have a leather coat lined with sheerling wool that I’m listing on ebay today. I inherited it from my very swanky, always bought the best Grandma-in-law. Maybe that will help you out, Edwin?

    I just happened on this site when trying to find more out about it. Glad I stopped in!

  • 10 Katharine // Dec 14, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Re-open Carroll Reed? The sooner the better! Wonderful sweaters.

  • 11 Marilyn // Feb 6, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Agree with everyone above! I “grew up” with
    Carroll Reed in Simsbury, CT and have very
    fond memories of the store (complete with
    ahead-of-their-time sisal carpeting) and every
    item I ever purchased there. Fingers crossed.
    I am soooo tired of the way-too-trendy clothing
    out there today.

  • 12 Bruce Farmer // Mar 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I still have a red cotton knapsack with black leather straps that i purchased at Carroll Reed’s in North Conway in the early sixties. Used it for day hiking and a book bag when I was at UNH.

  • 13 Kathy // May 9, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I used to work for Carroll Reeds in their Conway NH location. First in shipping and then in the offices of IOP. I was in backorders for awhile and then in returns/exchanges, shop orders, phone room taking orders, charge orders, missing information, finally as Carroll Reed Charge Account Clerk. It was a great job. All 5+ yrs. I left when I married my husband and had to leave the area. I miss it. It sure has a fond place in my heart!!!!! 🙂

  • 14 Barbara // May 4, 2011 at 6:44 am

    Love Carroll Reed merchandise. Especially the “Classic” T-Shirts — long enough to tuck in and sleeves that don’t bunch up under your arm.

    Have many of these t-shirts and also several pairs of blue jeans. I’m a Senior and thank her for not forgetting us. Some clothing manufacturers think we’re invisible.

    Keep them coming Carroll Reed, we need your clothing line.

    Barbara

  • 15 Anonymous // May 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Used to work at Carrol Reed in the 80’s, super nice people and stores

  • 16 The Comeback Kids.* « trend.pro.se // May 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    […] I suspect we are on the downward slide toward the end of this trend, but it is likely not over.  So who is next? The possibilities are endless. Perhaps someone should call Carroll Reed. […]

  • 17 The Comeback Kids. | trend.pro.se // May 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    […] I suspect we are on the downward slide toward the end of this trend, but it is likely not over.  So who is next? The possibilities are endless. Perhaps someone should call Carroll Reed. […]

  • 18 Bill Lynch // Jun 3, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Carroll was here long before Ralph Lauren, and if I didn’t know otherwise (though not absolutely certain), I’d swear that Lauren walked into North Conway’s Carroll Reed on a cold, snowy, twinkling windy night in December before ambling across the street to Horsefeathers and said to himself; WOW this is the place. This is the answer. Walk into any RL store and you tell me!!!!! There’s only one original. Always. And CR was it. Too bad and a real shame.

  • 19 Yvonne Litchfield // Aug 8, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I have two lovely inexpensive kaftans by Carroll Reed bought whilst on holiday in Oshawa,Ontario many moons ago. They are always admired and come out of the washing machine still looking brand new. I hope they never wear out! They also are a great reminder of happy times spent in your beautiful country.Yvonne Litchfield,South Shields UK

  • 20 Elizabeth // Nov 10, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Looked up Carroll Reed because today I’m wearing a glen plaid skirt that I bought mail order from there in 1982, getting compliments on it, because darn it, it’s still cute and a classic!

  • 21 Sarah // Nov 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Today looked up Carroll Reed. I am wearing a boiled wool jacket that I have had since I was about 15. I am 38 now and was shocked to see that Carroll Reed has been gone already 15 years. My jacket is a classic, one my mother got for me and it still looks like new. Wore it today on a cool day in NY and I was toasty warm. They don’t make jackets like this anymore.

    Thanks for the great quality.

    Sarah

  • 22 Susan // Dec 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I bought a Carroll Reed sweater today at Marshall’s in Knoxville, TN. Loved the style so I googled the brand. Its a wool Aztec print-very Ralph Lauren.

  • 23 Louise // Jan 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I, too, have a favorite Carroll Reed sweater that my mother purchased back in the early 90’s. It has always been dried on a wood dryer and still looks great today!

  • 24 Marylou Biddlestone // Jan 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I was thinking of Carroll Reed yesterday when I asked a fellow resident if she got her Leon Levin shirt there. I live in Wiscoinsin now, and she didn’t know what I was talking about! I lived in New England for ten years and bought from the Carroll Reed catalogue until I no longer received it.

    At least I can still get Leon Levin!

  • 25 Marge // Apr 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

    In 1985, when I took out my first (and only) credit card, – I spent the entire $1,000 limit on the same day, in a Carroll Reed store in northern New Hampshire. I had a new job and needed clothes, and what a beautiful, classic wardrobe I bought — two jackets (one tweed), three skirts, two slacks, two sweater vests, two sweaters, two blouses, in particular — beautiful shades of grey and muted light and darker seafoam and teal. The words I would use to describe their merchandise are conservative, fine fabrics and tailoring, classic, beautiful. All qualities that have been intentionally thrown out in today’s utterly debauched America.

  • 26 Cynthia // Sep 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I remember receiving Carroll Reed’s beautiful catalgoues, “First Call for Fall.” On this first day of September 2012 and many decades later from those days, I searched online for the retailer. What a disappointment to discover they are gone forever! If CR comes back with the same quality and offerings, I will surely buy, now that I am in my fifties and have the means to purchase that I didn’t have back then. CR, you are surely missed!

  • 27 louise // Oct 8, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Why is it that so many of the truly fine clothing merchants have disappeared leaving trendy expensive “garbagge”? I too own a short bolero type alpaca/wool sweater in a marled light cocoa brown colour that I will treasure forever..The inside Carroll Reed (woman) tag is like a souvenir to me…I am horrified that quality clothing such as this is becoming a challenge to find….remember Papagallo shoes? Please please someone out there bring Carroll Reed back to life……ARE YOU LISTENING TO US??????

  • 28 Magda // Oct 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I wish the CARROLL REED clothing come back! MADE IN THE USA!!! Loved very much the double-knit sweathers. I purchased them in every colors, way back. It was expensive, but worth the price. I am wearing them all the times, they are very warm and still looks brand new. I take good care of them. They are my favorites and you cannot find this types anymore. It is very shame.

  • 29 Cindy Biter // Dec 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I found Carroll Reed Shops in Dallas, Texas ast the Galleria waaaay back in the 1980’s. I was in my very early 20’s at the time and absolutely FELL IN LOVE with the brand. I loved theor clothing, but most of the time, it was too expensive for me to afford more than a couple of pieces per season. Then, I had a brilliant idea! I got a part-time job working at their store! I worked a couple of nights a week and enjoyed a very generous discount (I believe it was 40%) I passed many of my Carroll Reed clothes to my mother…hmmm… I wonder if they’re still in her closet!?!

  • 30 Dear Talbots | Hamptonvictorygarden's Blog // Dec 11, 2012 at 5:37 am

    […] I liked this look and I still have an old plaid skirt and sweater I bought at one of your now-defunct regional competitors back in the […]

  • 31 April // Aug 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I’m 57 and finally found carrol reed clothes that fit my body shape perfectly…now slim pickings.
    Please make more .

  • 32 Kathleen Stein // Apr 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Carrol Reed is, I mean, was, I mean would be my all time favorite clothing line. Please make it available again, even as a catalog line, and I will be a good customer!

  • 33 Priscilla Embry // Jul 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Carroll Reed was the best, and I hope there is still a market for quality clothing today. It would be a more sustainable way to dress than the cheap stuff from China that falls apart. Too bad the author had to denigrate women with his “matronly” comment. Seriously sexist, and added nothing to the content. Typical fashion biz journalism error.

  • 34 Char // Nov 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    after wearing one of my expensive anthropology boiled wool jacket today , I remembered I still have a timeless CR boiled jacket pulled it out and it is so great and so in again, yeah for holding on to the best!!!

  • 35 andrew robert hyde // Feb 5, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Hello, Brandsland.

    Sucinctly I was named after my grandfather,
    A R Hyde; he was a cobbler in sommerville, Mass and open the A R Hyde & Sons
    I am writing a biography of the grandparents
    and wish to know if you have some archives on the brand which began 1910. (Incidently)The grandfather had a shoe store first called Blue cloud.
    I am enjoying this search and surely appreciate some help.
    I was a customer of Carol Reed ski Shoppe in N Conway with cousins The years go back to fifties.
    I am searching for all types of information from the 1920s, 1930s. The grandfather supposedly began his skates in 1931.
    A more grave note that he passed July 31, 1935 at
    63/53 years old. My grandma live till august, 1960.
    My best, sincerely
    A Hyde
    786-326-0351
    POB 403545
    MB< FL 33140

  • 36 Greg Carson // Nov 17, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    I moonlighted at the Carroll Reed store in Acton MA while I was stationed at Ft Devens. I eventually traveled to other stores to train ski mechanics and tennis racket stringers. I regularly out in hours in Bedford NH (were Chen Yang Lee is today) and of course NoCo.

    It was a fun place to work and CML and managers treated employees very well…not to mention the 40% employee discount.

    My kids growing up wore my old CB down goose jacket and Roffe ski pants skiing as “retro wear.”

    I googled Carroll Reed tonight because earlier today I found a leather glasses case (lambs wool lined) with the Carroll Reed Ski Shops logo embossed on the front.

    I think a revival of the Carroll Reef brand, if done as an upscale boutique tied with the ski (and maybe golf instead of tennis) would do quite well today.

    Carson@post.harvard.edu

  • 37 Garland Pollard // Nov 19, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Greg…i think one of the large retail chains actually has the rights to the brand…..and yes, tied to ski makes sense.

  • 38 betty // Mar 22, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Please bring back this line of clothing to OntarioCanada I really miss the quality and prices..Thanks.Betty

  • 39 Kathryn // Jul 23, 2017 at 2:27 am

    I worked for CR for many years in the 80’s. The executive branch was then located in Maine. I got a chuckle out of when the writer of this article made mention of the clothing being matronly. I was 20* years old when I started working there. I never once considered it to be matronly. I considered it to be well tailored beautiful classic clothing that will never go out of style ever! I spent a lions share of money at this store and wore this classic* stylish clothing proudly. With it’s lavish discount, and even more for management, one could say I bought a lot!!

    I still own a ton of this well made classic clothing, What I don’t have, is because the moths have good taste! Our onlyyyy competition was Talbots. ( If you wanted to order by catalog)

    Our catalogs of clothing were to die for, page by page. Our stores and our displays were gorgeous! Our sweaters were made exclusively for us and were detailed and unique. You did not find this clothing in other stores. We were not to be duplicated. You could not find our beautifully made boiled wool coats any where. It made people want to stop, pause and come in.

    We never had a lack of customers. Our customers spanned across generations. They were loyal to us. The same ladies that were bought their first sweaters there, then introduced their children to us and our quality was considered to hold long enough to become an heirloom. At one point we offered mother and daughter matching outfits. You could not find such a thing at any store. It made for beautiful pictures. We even carried dresses for a bridal party. We had beautiful brocade totes and hand made one of a kind pottery etc. I still have it all!

    One of my memories was one of our co-workers, the grand daughter of Hinckley’s Yachts buying our pottery as a gift for a very famous persons wedding she was attending. I was impressed! We had a very huge following of customers. We did not have to search for them, they came to us. They patronized us. We knew them by name. Our quality was incomparable. We had it all really! We could dress you from head to toe including all accessories, silk scarves, Italian Pappagallo shoes, interchangeable belt buckles all the way down to Coach purses ( before they were even a big name and were then of high quality ) We then expanded hugely across the United States. That was probably one the reasons for it’s demise.

    The second reason would be that someone had this brilliant idea to try to make us look like and compete with stores like “The Gap”. ( We were not even remotely like that type of store) quality, price wise or consumer wise. They decided to do this cookie cutter* layout where we literally had a map of how every single CR store across the U.S. should look like. The walls then became one long rod of clothing, regardless of its style, material or season. One big mess!! There was no longer a quaint beautiful display of clothing or ski wear that CR was notoriously known for. It became one big blob of pants, dresses, beautifully tailored blouses hanging on long rods regardless of color or texture etc. I personally think it looked like a discount junk store, and so did the elite customers.

    All the executives from each store would pile in and pretended* to marvel at how beautiful it looked. They would all come to view & visit the prototype* store so they would know what to do in their branch. It was one big huge ugly mess!! Before this all happened we would take painstaking time to make sure that our 4 ways and rounder’s were counterparts that would be something that a customer could just come in and not have to search for what would look good together. We took that thought process out for them. We had sole control over how our store looked. They could buy it and know that it all went well together, and that they could have a new look every day. Our stores were gorgeous and inviting!

    There will never be anyone quite like CR on the East coast, that is or will ever be like us. While donating this year I found in the pocket a pile of Carroll Reeds tags that were meant for our sales. That was a blast from the past and a fond memory at the same time. And I still own CR’s mug they made for us and our beautifully made linen gift boxes with its quality hunter green grosgrain ribbon we were known for. I know this is saddening, but on a good short note, all of my hip stitched pleated solid & plaid, dirndl & pencil stitched moth ate skirts have become my Mums first and only* quilt emblazoned with a Carroll Reeds logo with love from Mum on the back. Ahhhh the precious memories!!!

    Long live Carroll Reed!!!! My hopes are that someday someone will, just as Carroll Reed did so eloquently, open a classic store-front ski and clothing as he did for us!!!

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