Elmwood Park retailer closing shop to save souls
Thomas Russo says he's selling all his inventory and closing his shop, Changes, to focus on his evangelism. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 11:06AM
ELMWOOD PARK — Thomas Russo worked hard to keep his customers well-dressed from head to toe.
But after 46 years in retail, he has found a new line of work.
The inside of his business, Changes, at 2532-34 N. Harlem Ave., has hints of the new direction he’s taken in life. Along with an eclectic assortment of shoes, jeans, shirts, hats and other clothing that lines the walls of his store, there are quotes from the Bible taped to his register and sales area.
He is in the process of selling all his inventory so he can focus on his new goal: saving souls.
“My customer base has changed, society has changed, but God hasn’t changed,” he said. “I want to get rid of my inventory to use the money for my ministry.”
Russo, 77, said he started his clothing business in 1967 and at one time had three businesses along Harlem Avenue. His last two stores, right next door to each other, are connected inside.
He describes the clothes he sells as “high fashion” and considers his store on the level of a European boutique. He said the clothes he sells aren’t what people will find in a department store.
“I’ve got guys shopping here for 35 to 40 years,” he said. “They come to see me because they didn’t know what is going on (in fashion).”
“I’ve had a lot of people walk through my door,” he said. “I’m on target with my customer. I want the guy to look good because it’s an advertisement for the store.”
Everything in the store is on sale and he doesn’t mind wheeling and dealing with customers.
Although he enjoyed his business Russo admits there was always something missing. “I’ve had a lot of changes in my life,” he said.
The most profound and positive change he admits happened in the mid-1970s.
“In 1975 I gave my heart to the Lord and nothing has been the same,” he said.
Since that day along with selling clothes to customers there are times when he would pray for them, whether they purchased something or not, and if the timing was right, he would offer his spiritual testimony.
Over time, this urge to profess his faith to others has grown stronger and stronger. That, along with a negative change in the economy showed him that now is time to go in a new direction.
“My heart has a new desire,” he said. “You can’t do something other than what God gives you as a gift. Evangelism is my gift.”