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Clothes that blaze a hue on guys

One in an occasional series.

Jack Sobel Ltd. is doing what it has been doing since 1958: selling brightly colored resort wear for men.

Owner Bill Adams Jr., 34, the only somber note in the store in a charcoal suit, says his merchandise is geared to "the more mature, more sophisticated group. That's who we're aimed at."

Rods from which hang boxer-style swim trunks, shelves of neatly folded knit shirts and round racks of slacks in rainbow hues greet the eye. Sobel's, at 16725 Gulf Blvd., is for the good times: vacationers who need golf attire, cabana sets, slacks and sport coats in vivid green, red, coral, turquoise, yellow and blue in solids as well as plaids, stripes and checks.

And neckties? Adams carries Countess Mara ties, a selection of stripes, polka dots and patterns in pure silk, ranging from $35 to $100 for hand-painted, signed, one-of-a-kind ties.

Coat and slack fabrics are polyester, cotton, raw silk and lightweight wool blends. And there is a new micro-suede sport jacket, a fabric that is whisper light and cloud soft, but is actually good old polyester.

"This jacket weighs about 1 or 2 pounds, while an ultra-suede jacket weighs 5 or 6 pounds," says Adams. "And you can wad this up in a ball, and in five minutes it will be wrinkle-free."

Clothes that travel well are important for Adams' clientele, which he estimates to be about 60 percent visitors and 40 percent local. Couples typically come into the store together rather than men shopping alone, Adams said.

"I believe women are the dominant decision factor in men's clothes," he says. "They are more acute at color, texture, washing instructions. Men seem to follow their lead. When I see a woman come in with a man, I stay in the background. If they ask for help, then I come forward.

"We specialize in color, quality and something that I think a lot of businesses have lost: service," Adams said. This service includes sending fliers to 1,200 customers who often order by mail.

Among these are Jane and Leroy Irwin, Johnstown, Pa., who have shopped at Sobel's since 1979 during their winters in Seminole. Irwin has had open heart surgery, so they have not made the trip down in several years.

"So, we don't even know Bill Adams," Mrs. Irwin said. "But we think there's no store like Sobel's. We'd go in every week and buy a jacket when we were down there, and they're so good at matching jackets and trousers. Now they send us swatches and we order them. We just got three microsuede jackets, one for the doctor who saved Leroy's life."

She admits that both her husband and his doctor are "very colorful dressers."

The store's founder, the late Jack Sobel, also was a colorful dresser, it is said, and perhaps he had a hard time finding attire to his liking. He put together small stores that were in the little complex across Gulf Boulevard from the Bath Club. It was there that the men's furnishings store was born.

Although Adams has owned Sobel's only two years, and it is a first-time venture into merchandising for him, he has been helped greatly by Arlene Fisher, his assistant manager. Previous owner Bill Schliesser also has been helpful with advice when called.

Adams has been surrounded by "Bills" since he bought the store. The owner before Bill Schliesser was Bill Walsh. Adams' son is Bill III. His father, Bill Sr., is in the store often. Even the postal carrier is Bill.

Adams is entrenched in the community. He and his wife have four children who attend Community Christian School in Seminole. He volunteers at the school. He will furnish clothes for a fashion show given today at Suncoast Cathedral, the church he and his family attend.

Adams had been in the hospital business for 15 years before buying Sobel's.

"The Lord had been telling me that (the hospital) business was at an end for me," he said. "I didn't want to uproot my family. We've been in Pinellas County 16 years."

He found Sobel's when looking for other business opportunities. Because the business was new to him, he took courses in merchandising at St. Petersburg Junior College.

"It has been a learning process," says Adams of his entrepreneurship at Sobel's, where hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. "I've been told that you can learn from the mistakes of others, but sometimes you have to make your own."

But when he first saw the store, "I fell in love with it. I've been extremely happy in it," he said. "Sometimes you just know that you know that you know."