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Thursday, Mar. 5, 2015

Jack Graen fashions a retirement of new freedom

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Jack Graen will not be disappointed when he closes the doors to Graen's at the end of the year.

The retailer is retiring after owning his own store for 31 years in downtown Storm Lake.

Graen and his wife, Karole, who retired from nursing earlier this year, plan to spend their new found freedom to visit grandchildren and travel, but first they plan to spend time in Iowa City this winter "to catch as many basketball games as we can," Graen said.

A native of Spencer, Graen said it was always a dream of his to own his own store.

"As a kid I thought the most important gift for Christmas was to get a toy cash register - but I never got one," he joked.

In high school Graen started working for Eddie Quinn, who has operated businesses throughout western Iowa. It is Quinn that Graen attributes his formal education and training in retailing. "He was a tremendous merchants, perhaps one of the finest in the state of Iowa," Graen said.

Graen had planned to go to school for hotel and restaurant management, but changed his mind.

"I loved retail so much I decided to learn the business," he said. "I've always enjoyed people."

Quinn first opened a clothing store in 1964 where Graen's is now. Graen purchased the store from him in 1970.

When Graen's first opened its doors, the store focused on men's dress wear. But to stay competitive, Graen said it is important to offer what the customers want.

"And if they want something you don't have, get it," he said.

It was quality, brand-name merchandise that his customers demanded, he said.

"This is what the people of Storm Lake wanted," Graen said. "Storm Lake is a quality town and will continue to be a quality town."

He has always been proud of the quality of goods and the workmanship of the clothing he has sold. Since the store started carrying children's clothing, Graen said customers have not brought back anything they were dissatisfied with.

For his career in retail clothing sales, Graen has witnessed all of the latest trends and styles.

"I can remember polyester, leisure suits, the wide belts - things that if you saw today would make you chuckle," he said.

Along with styles, customers also change, and keeping up with them is just as important to a successful business.

"We have to adapt to those changes," he said. "I enjoy a challenge, and that's probably why I lasted as long as I have."

"To be a good merchant you have to like people, you have to know what you're doing and where you're going to go," he said.

There are great opportunities in Storm Lake at this time, Graen feels, but he also acknowledges how easy it is for potential customers to drive out of town. "People travel, that's a fact. But we must sit back and realize what's here in town," he said. "Shop here, because if you don't you may lose it and never get it back."

He has seen the potential of his fellow merchants during such events as the Star Spangled Spectacular. "People come from all over, and I'm amazed at how many come back," he said.

Along with what Graen calls "tremendous" customers, he is also thankful for all of the young people who have worked for him. "It's most gratifying to get congratulations from the kids, and have them say, 'It's neat to see you're retiring, you've earned it,'" he said.