Jerry Wainwright went through a lot of neckties during his nine years as an assistant basketball coach at Wake Forest University. Cahill & Swain made sure he was never without.
“I would get a new tie for almost every game,” Wainwright says. “On big wins, I would keep the ties. At the end of the year I would give ties to players and other people.”
Cahill & Swain has kept men looking sharp for decades, from high school students renting a tux for prom to lawyers, business executives, gospel singers, athletes, and coaches. The store’s two Winston-Salem locations double as mini museums, one tracing the history of the business and the other exhibiting autographed game balls, photos, and other memorabilia from the store’s athletic customers.
Daniel Motsinger holds court at the Northside Plaza location, which serves a broad base of customers from the community. Regulars over the years have included legendary Winston-Salem State University basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines, golfer Jim Thorpe and a procession of WFU coaches and athletes, including Wainwright, Skip Prosser, Jim Caldwell, Ricky Proehl, Tim Duncan, Randolph Childress, and Rodney Rogers.
“We’ve gained a reputation over time for carrying a quality product for a fair price,” Motsinger says.
Frank Cahill and Bill Swain founded the clothing shop 70 years ago, opening a downtown store in 1949. Cahill & Swain stores have operated in various locations around the city in the decades since.
Motsinger is Cahill & Swain’s vice president and part owner. Mike Swain, Bill’s son and the company president, runs the Knollwood Street location, which moved there from Hanes Mall about a decade ago. That store serves a lot of attorneys and businessmen, such as Art Bloom, former owner of a local ad agency and former director of the Winston-Salem Symphony.
“I am a very hard size to fit, but Mike Swain knows what looks best on me and always finds the right clothes,” Bloom says. “Alterations are included so I can get the look of custom clothes without paying the high price. He shortens the sleeve length of all of my shirts and even moves the vents so it’s not obvious the shirt has been altered.”
Relationships stitched in time
Mike Swain and Motsinger both started with the business in 1972. The store’s reputation, along with veteran employees who have strong customer-service skills, can be credited with its success.
“We’ve made connections because of how we treat people with respect, the service we give, and the fittings,” Motsinger says. “Most of the people that work for us have been with us for 20-plus years.”
Wainwright is one in a long line of Demon Deacon coaches and players to frequent the store’s Northside Plaza location. He coached at Wake from 1985 to 1994 under Bob Staak and Dave Odom.
“Lot of times I just went over there to BS with Danny rather than to buy clothes,” Wainwright says.
Clarence Gaines would do the same. The man who led the WSSU Rams to multiple championships in his 47-year career hung out at Cahill & Swain so often that a piece of furniture up front is still known as Big House’s chair — even 14 years after his death. Regular customers often compete with each other to claim squatter’s rights.
“He always sat here,” Motsinger says. “Everybody tries to claim it.”
Today, Wainwright still makes regular pilgrimages to Cahill & Swain from his home on the coast. He’s always enjoyed busting Motsinger’s chops.
“If there were other customers, I’d say, ‘Hey, Dan, that suit you just sold me, one of the pant legs fell off,’” Wainwright says. “I’d yell out as I came in, ‘Well, I’m here. Change all the price tags. Raise ’em. I know you’re gonna get me.’”
Quality on cue
The Northside Plaza store has provided suits for gospel singers and their backing groups, including Bill Gaither and Ernie Haase. It even hosted a foreign delegation when members of the Russian parliament stopped by.
“It seemed they had just taken office and were traveling around the U.S. in order to understand and learn how American businesses operated, and somehow they landed in Cahill & Swain,” Motsinger says.
Cahill & Swain provided uniforms for employees of Piedmont Airlines and other aviation companies in an earlier era.
“It was a good run,” Motsinger says. “I was ‘Dan the Uniform Man’ for a while.”
Continuing with tradition, the business specializes in suits and sport coats along with accessories such as shoes, ties, hats, and topcoats. Cahill & Swain carries clothes from a variety of brands, including Hart Schaffner Marx, Ralph Lauren, Tallia Orange, Michael Kors, Gitman Bros., Luchiano Visconti, Horn Legend, Ballin, and Tommy John.
Fashion trends have at least one thing in common with college athletes and coaches: They change every few years. Motsinger and Swain started working in the era of wide lapels and flare-legged pants, with many style changes from that era to the slim-cut suits of today.
“You take it from the ’70s, when there were flat-front slacks and smaller cuts,” Motsinger says. “In the ’80s, there were more preppy looks. In the ’90s, double-breasted suits got to be more fashionable. Things got to be a fuller cut there for a while, now it has gone back to slimmer cuts.”
Athletes often have trouble finding clothes that fit well off the rack, and Cahill & Swain offers them custom fittings. Bloom and Wainwright praise the store for getting them what they’ve needed over the years, even when it hasn’t always been easy to come by.
“I needed a self-tie bow tie for a tuxedo, but wanted a narrower width,” Bloom says. “[Mike Swain] got one of his loyal vendors to make it for me — and I got it in a week. You just can’t get this exceptional quality and service at chain stores.”
Wainwright appreciates the quality and value of the clothes he has bought from Motsinger.
“He had connections with people in Charlotte and other areas where he was able to order good-quality suits, but at a much lower price than you would probably get if you went into a regular store,” Wainwright says.
As much as Motsinger enjoys talking about his high-profile customers, he acknowledges that everyday people keep Cahill & Swain in business.
“I can’t say enough about the importance of the people who support us daily,” he says. “People who are buying their fall wardrobe in October, their spring wardrobe in April. People buying for birthdays and Christmas gifts. By knowing these families and their sizes, we can really help the people that are here on a regular basis.”
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3595 N. Patterson Ave.
Winston-Salem NC, 27105
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat, 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
380 Knollwood Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.