Hilltop business icon Morris McCollum, better known as Mr. Mac, died early Thursday at age 90.
He was the longtime owner of Mr. Mac Ltd., the men’s clothing store at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Earnest S. Brazill Street.
Hilltop Business Association president Mario Lorenz said McCollum died just before 1 a.m. at his Fife home after a couple days of hospice care for a blood clot in his arm.
Lorenz said McCollum, who opened his business in 1957, was a go-to guy for questions about the area’s history.
“He held a store together in Hilltop when Hilltop was really under duress,” Lorenz said. “He started out with shoes and hats. Then he went into men’s clothing — suits and ties and shirts — and everything that goes with it.”
Mr. Mac was open Thursday. A table held a growing collection of flower arrangements.
“The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” said longtime employee and friend Keith Gist.
Gist last spoke to McCollum on Tuesday, by phone.
“He mentioned that he wanted to say goodbye to everybody,” Gist said. McCollum was able to speak to several people that day, Gist said.
“The store was his life,” said step-son Jeff Macaluso.
McCollum worked there six days a week, driving himself to work until just recently, Macaluso said.
“He probably would have been gone a long time ago without that,” Macaluso said. “That store kept him going.”
The future of the store is uncertain.
“We’re going to keep the legacy, that’s the plan anyway,” Gist said as he looked over a large stack of photos of McCollum.
McCollum helped Gist through tough times more than once over the past 20 years. That was in character with the man, Gist said.
“He was very involved in the community,” Gist said. During Hilltop’s crime wave in the 1980s, McCollum would donate suits to people killed by violence.
And every year he would put up Christmas lights.
Macaluso said McCollum was a big sports buff on his one day off: Sundays.
“He always had a game on,” Macaluso said. McCollum was a member of the Tacoma Athletic Commission.
The News Tribune asked McCollum days before his birthday April 27 how he’d managed to keep his store open for decades.
“I’m a destination store,” he said. “What I tell people is, when you see me, don’t think of a suit. But when you think of buying a suit, think of me.”
“People from Portland, from Utah, come to see his clothes,” said employee Darrel Akres on Thursday.
It was the clothes that built McCollum’s reputation and allowed him to open several stores over the years.
But it was McCollum’s character that kept people returning, those who knew him said.
“He’d get along with everybody,” Akres said. He called McCollum humble and kind.
Akres was a customer long before he started working there. His first purchase: shoes.
“One of these gators here, back in the day,” he said looking at a collection of alligator skin shoes in a variety of colors. “I had a hat to match my shoes, cufflinks, everything.”
People would stop him and ask where he got his clothes.
“Mr. Mac, he’s the man, come see him,” Akres would respond.
A couple of years ago, Akres was walking by the store.
“I said, ‘Hi Mr. Mac, how you doing? Do you need any help?’ He said ‘Sure, come on by.’ That was it, that’s how I got my job.”
Plans for a memorial service are in the works, Macaluso said. He only knows of one directive McCollum had.
“He wants his ashes flown back to Iowa to be next to his mother.”
Staff writer Craig Sailor contributed to this report.