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PELLER & MURE CLOTHING RETAILER DIVIDED UP AND SOLD TO NEW OWNERS

Peller & Mure Inc., the upscale retailer for professional men and women, has been divided up and sold off to local investors.

The men's clothing department will retain the Peller & Mure nameplate, while the women's department has been purchased by another company, known as Monarch.

Both stores will remain located on the first floor of Olympic Towers downtown.

Peller & Mure had been owned by millionaire businessman James "Harry" Williams. Long-time store president Larry Jay and his wife, Janice, aren't involved in the successor stores.

Earlier this month, the Peller & Mure men's store reopened under the direction of Jed H. Hannel and Jay A. Hitzges, both with years of experience in men's retailing. They head a group of local investors who purchased the men's clothing department.

Peller & Mure carries a full line of suits, shirts, ties, shoes and accessories.

Hannel said the Southwick clothing line, Gitman Brothers and Barry Bricken shirts, and ties by Ferrell Reed have been added to the store's collection. He also hopes to stock Johnston & Murphy and Cole Hann shoes.

In January, a group of downtown executives approached Hannel and Hitzges about buying Peller & Mure's men's department. The women's department had been sold in March 1994 to a successful entrepreneur.

"They wanted to save Peller & Mure from extinction," Hannel said. "It wasn't that the store wasn't doing well. There was just a need for some fresh blood."

Entrepreneur Maria Westman also has breathed new life into the women's department, which she calls Monarch.

The store is part of her fast-growing chain of five upscale gift and clothing outlets. Miss Westman is well known to airline travelers because she operates two gift shops in the Greater Buffalo International Airport.

The stores sell designer briefcases and bags, watches, pens, luggage and other high-end merchandise. The downtown location also carries women's business clothes and cocktail dresses, Miss Westman said.

"I have a mini department store, and business is thriving," she added.

Originally a men's haberdasher, Peller & Mure was established in 1948 by Paul Mure and Anthony M. "Roy" Peller, who both worked in the hat department at the former Kleinhans Co.

Peller & Mure initially opened at 15 Court St. but subsequently moved to 49 Court St. It was exclusively a men's store until 1981, when a "conservative" women's clothing line was added.

In 1978, the retailer was sold to Hens & Kelly, the department store subsidiary of Buffalo-based Twin Fair Inc., which operated a chain of discount stores.

In the 1980s, Twin Fair subsequently sold Hens & Kelly, along with Peller & Mure, in order to streamline its operation. Larry Jay and a partner then took an ownership stake in the store, but the founders also remained active until their deaths.

By 1985 Peller & Mure had moved into a larger storefront at 340 Delaware Ave., located in the midst of a small upscale shopping district.

The retailer made news six years later, when it moved to Olympic Towers on Pearl Street. In 1991, the move was seen as a major shot in the arm for downtown retailing.

Similar optimism was expressed by the people who purchased Peller & Mure's assets. "Downtown retailing isn't dead. We have very loyal customers, who don't hesitate to spend money in Buffalo," Miss Westman said.

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