Hats off to William L. Chafe & Sons, 95 years and counting

Posted on June 21, 2024 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


A photo of William L. Chafe & Sons’ storefront on 300 Water Street, dressed up in honour of King George’s arrival to St. John’s in 1939 (photo credit: William L. Chafe & Sons)

A staple in downtown St. John’s, N.L., William L. Chafe & Sons has been around for nearly a century. What started with a tailor of formal menswear evolved into a longstanding retail shop outfitting gents from head to toe. Now in the hands of the third generation, brothers Roger and Derek Chafe continue in the footsteps of their father and grandfather.

Opening shop

William Chafe established William L. Chafe & Sons in 1929 at 300 Water Street in downtown St. John’s, N.L. A tailor by trade, Chafe’s specialty was men’s formal wear—making and customizing suits and coats. In the early days of the business, he had a small staff of about five, which grew to nearly 20 over time.

In 1962, Chafe’s son of the same name joined the family business, representing the second generation.


An old Chafe & Sons ad published in 1945 (photo credit: William L. Chafe & Sons)

Changing stock

Needing a larger space, in 1969 the father and son team purchased 330 Water Street and moved their business down the block. Before becoming Chafe & Sons, the building was a hat store and many customers continued to visit the location looking for a new hat. Taking note of the demand, they brought hats into their store (which still sell well today).

Until the ‘80s, Chafe & Sons was primarily in the suit business. However, as styles became more casual, they had to adapt. Over time, they started selling raincoats, casual pants, sports jackets, raglan shirts, pyjamas, socks, underwear, shoes, and much more. They also began selling and tailoring uniforms for the military, police, commissioners, etc.

Derek Chafe, who owns and manages the store with his brother Roger, says suit sales accounted for over 90 per cent of revenue in his father’s and grandfather’s time. Today, suits are only about 20 per cent of the business.


Signage outside Chafe & Sons’ storefront (photo credit: Alexander Chafe)

Major renovations

In 2002, a fire forced Chafe & Sons to close temporarily. As the Chafes rebuilt, they set up a short-term location across the street and purchased the building next door to expand. When it reopened in 2005, Chafe & Sons was twice as large as before. Upper levels of the building where tailors used to work were converted into apartments to add a new layer to the family business.

Chafe & Sons also upgraded to an electric point-of-sale system about 20 years ago and created a website in 2014. Derek Chafe says many customers use their website to see what they have in stock before visiting their physical store. It has also increased their reach across Canada.


Chafe & Sons storefront at 330 Water Street (photo credit: William L. Chafe & Sons)

Personal service continued

Today, operations continue for William L. Chafe & Sons at 330 Water Street. Although the business has changed over time, Derek Chafe believes that operations are similar to when his father and grandfather held the reins. He commented: “This is a family business, we know how it operates and how to treat people. A lot of fellas have come here forever for our quality products and customer service. We hear it all the time.”

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