Few local clothing stores can match the longevity of , the retailer of quality men's and women's clothing in El Cerrito Plaza.
But nothing lasts forever, and Herb Foley says he's not going to renew the lease when it expires on Sept. 30.
"I'm 92 years old, and I just think it's time to say farewell to the business," he said with a chuckle in an interview Friday in the shop's office, where he still comes to work. "I've been in business in this area over 66 years. I think I paid my dues."
He and his late partner, Clarence (Clary) Buonaccorsi, started the firm in 1946 in Foley's hometown of Albany and expanded to a second store in Berkeley in 1950.
But Foley said he had doubts about moving to El Cerrito when his friend from childhood, Bob Fraser, first suggested a third outlet at a new shopping center – to be called El Cerrito Plaza. Fraser and Fraser's partner were going to build the shopping center on a large plot that once hosted El Cerrito's greyhound racetrack, as well as a trailer park and drive-in movie.
"He (Bob) came by one day and said, 'Herb, I just got a piece of property where your next store is going to be," Foley recalled, describing the visit from his longstanding friend. The two had gone to Albany's Marin Elementary School together, beginning in 1926.
"And I said, 'Where's that?'"
"He said, 'El Cerrito.'"
"I said, 'That's the boondocks.'"
Foley recalled the many empty lots that lined San Pablo Avenue in those days.
Nevertheless, when the new Building C opened at El Cerrito Plaza in 1960, Foley & Bonny was one of the tenants, occupying a space approximately where Pasta Pomodoro is today.
The El Cerrito branch of Foley & Bonny was the only one to endure. Albany closed in 1961 and Berkeley in 1970. The branch's first location at the Plaza, Building C, was torn down when the Plaza was rebuilt. It moved to a spot where Trader Joe's is located now and then moved a third time in 2002 to its current location between Verizon and Supercuts, facing the large parking lot in front of the Lucky supermarket.
The "Bonny" part of Foley & Bonny was Foley's partner, whose last name Buonaccorsi was shortened to Bonny. "We could never afford a store wide enough to have all that on the sign," Foley said of his partner's full name. Buonaccorsi died in 1974.
What made the two young men decide to start a clothing business in 1946?
"I had finished four years at Cal, five years almost, and my intention was to go to law school," Foley said, noting in an aside that UC Berkeley tuition at the time was $27.50 per semester.
"I had worked hard to maintain an average to get into law school," he said. "But the war changed all of that."
Foley had graduated from Albany High School in 1937, and by the time he finished Cal, the United States was engulfed in World War II. He entered the service and served in the air corps training command. "By the time I got out, I was married with a son, so my immediate plan was to try to make some money so I could support them."
During college, he had worked five years at Vaughn's clothing store in Berkeley, so he and Buonaccorsi, who were friends from Cal, decided on a clothes store. "I felt that I knew something about the men's (clothing) business," Foley said.
A poster-sized photo of the two young men in their store in 1946 hangs on the office wall. (See photo attached to this article.)
Now 66 years later, his two daughters Jan and Carole Foley are co-owners and help run and business, with assistance from their brother, Bill Foley. They don't plan to keep it going after their father retires.
"Everything goes full circle," said Jan Foley, who has devoted 30 years to the store. "For years it was a beautiful business to run, but all things have their time."
Plus, Carole Foley said, people don't dress the way they once did.
"The dynamic in the industry is such that it's becoming more and more oriented toward casual wear," she said. "Suits and sports coats are not as popular as they used to be."
What made Foley & Bonny successful for so long?
"Everything that Herb ever wanted was the best quality and customer service," Carole Foley said. "He felt that if he built the business on those two things, it would be successful. And it was."
The decision to close hasn't been easy.
"It's very emotional," Carole Foley said. "It's like you're on sort of a roller coaster everyday – people coming in and being sad that we're not going to be here anymore."
"It's a double-edged sword," said Jan. "I will miss the wonderful customers we've had over the years who are tremendously loyal and wouldn't think of going anywhere else. A lot of customers are like family."
In the meantime, Foley & Bonny will remain open as long as it has merchandise left to sell. The store sent out a notice to customers on its mailing list announcing its "retirement sale," which began May 1. All goods are 25 percent off.
And what does Herb Foley, who now lives in Pinole, plan to do after September 30?
"What I'm going to do is relax," he said. "That's important. I've been under a pretty rigorous schedule for a lot of years. And probably do some traveling."