Haberdasher Jerry Moscovitz' Story Isn't a Tall Tale: When It Comes to Dressing Behemoths, He's the Giant

updated 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Haystack Calhoun, a pro wrestler weighing 650 pounds, spied a pair of Levi's jeans with a special 74-inch waist in the window, he bought them on the spot and ordered several more. Thus San Francisco's Rochester Big & Tall Clothing store found another client and a lifelong one: Haystack has been coming back to the emporium ever since for his outsize wardrobe, including his 5x (extra-extra-extra-extra-extra-large) T-shirts.

Unusually large, tall or, for that matter, small men do not raise an eyebrow at Rochester, where proprietor Jerry Moscovitz—himself barely 5'5" tall and a size 39 short—has catered to the hard-to-fit for 22 years. A veritable sports hall of fame from across the country is drawn to his stock of designer fashions by names like Ralph Lauren, Donald Brooks, Lanvin and Oleg Cassini. Indeed, Moscovitz handles everything from skivvies to ski outfits and formal wear. Sizes range up to 60 extra-long for the tall man, and for the large man (employees are forbidden to use the term "fat") waistbands expand to a gargantuan 72 inches.

Moscovitz, 67, is visited several times a year by retired basketball stars Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond, who like his size 16 shoes, and he thinks nothing of ordering double-extra-long warmup suits for 6'9'-tall Denver Nugget Tom Boswell. "We've even had Metropolitan Opera star Luciano Pavarotti—a 54 regular with a 19-inch neck—in one dressing room," Moscovitz recalls, "and the then Oakland Raider Bubba Smith in the other."

It was not always thus. Moscovitz' Hungarian-born father founded the Rochester Clothing Company ("Rochester, N.Y. was the men's clothing center of the country at that time, so that's what we called it," explains Jerry) right after the 1906 quake, and for the next half century specialized in uniforms and work clothes. Recalls Jerry, who started out in the stockroom: "We'd turn away the guy who needed a 37" sleeve or an extra-large waist."

Taking over after his dad and three brothers had retired, Jerry realized in 1957 that he couldn't compete with the knock-off chains. "I knew the guy who wore a size 15½, 33 shirt wouldn't need to come to me when he could buy the same shirt at a discount store," he says. So Moscovitz decided to go big. He made his first trip East, marching up and down New York's lower Fifth Avenue and hounding manufacturers for large suit sizes. He returned with a line of 48s, 50s and 52s and after a yearlong ad campaign found that "business went crazy."

Fittingly, Rochester outgrew its quarters by 1963. In addition to his main store on San Francisco's Mission Street, Moscovitz now boasts four California branches with a payroll exceeding 100. His mailing list reaches 50,000 customers, with athletes making up about one-fifth of his clientele.

Rochester's $5 million-a-year gross has freed Moscovitz, a grandfather, from having to "wait on trade," but he vows he will never retire. He comes into the main store twice a week, plays golf on Wednesdays and Saturdays and gardens at the spacious home he shares with his wife of 40 years, Esther, in the tony suburb of Hillsborough. For eight months he regularly visited his most famous Hillsborough neighbor—Patty Hearst—at the Pleasanton prison. (The two had met dog-walking while Patty was out on bail, and Jerry became an activist member of the "Free Patty" committee.)

After the big stuff Moscovitz decided to tailor clothes for men in the 4'10"-to-5'3" range. He figured that it was about time to save his fellow shorties the embarrassment of shopping in the boys' department.

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