Legendary haberdasher Milton Julian was a born salesman who infused style and personality into Franklin Street, friends and family said.
The longtime Chapel Hillian died Saturday at the age of 96. He was buried Tuesday afternoon in the Judea Reform Congregation Cemetery on Jones Ferry Road.
Born in Brockton, Mass., Julian was the youngest of five boys and the son of Russian immigrants Alexander and Rebecca Julian. He spent his early years helping his father sell fruits and vegetables from a horse and buggy.
Milton moved to North Carolina in the late 1930s to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After class, he sold shoes in a shop on Franklin Street until his graduation in 1941 with a degree in business administration. He then left Chapel Hill for the 211th Army Air Forces, serving nearly four years in World War II.
He became a skilled table tennis player while stationed in Italy, family said, winning enough money to launch his clothing business.
After the war, Julian married Virginia Barringer, his “love at first sight.” Together, they raised five boys and two girls. Virginia died in 2010, and a son, Andrew Julian, died in 1970.
Julian’s brother Maurice Julian, the father of noted fashion designer Alexander Julian, died in 1993.
Julian’s survivors include sons Philip and his wife Carol, Shannon and his wife Susan, Bruce and his wife Bonnie, and Tim and his wife Carla; daughters Kimi and husband Robert Slepin, and Jami and husband Barry Haigler; and 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Julian got his start in the clothing business working with Maurice at Julian’s College Shop on Franklin Street. The store first served servicemen training in Chapel Hill and later dressed young men returning to college. The brothers previously rented and sold bikes to UNC students.
In 1948, Milton Julian opened his own shop – Milton’s Clothing Cupboard – on West Franklin Street. The store moved to 163 E. Franklin St. in 1952, where it stayed until 1992. Milton’s served a gamut of locals and visitors, from college students and residents to well-known personalities, such as jazz singer Nat “King” Cole, basketball star James Worthy and former Gov. Terry Sanford.
Julian was an innovator who brought the preppy Ivy League-look to Chapel Hill and the South, family members said. The business boomed, expanding to Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte and other cities.
“I gave students insight on how to dress like a man and helped men dress with more style,” Julian said in 2013, when the Chapel Hill Historical Society named him a Town Treasure. “I was innovative. I educated and I had a lot of fun. Milton’s wasn’t a club, but it was the next best thing to it.”
It was Julian’s affinity for sales that earned him the nickname “the poor man’s Brooks Brothers,” friends said.
One of his quirkier marketing schemes was to hide turtles on campus that students could find and trade for ties. Students also would line up for the “All-Night Screaming Zonker Sale” with $5 suits hidden in the clothing racks. Julian’s son Bruce had the job of going up on the store’s roof and throwing free clothes down to passers-by, the family said.
In 1992, Julian closed his Franklin Street shop when The Gap opened across the street in the former Carolina Theater building and rents started rising. Milton’s Clothing Cupboard reopened in Durham’s Northgate Mall but closed about a year later.
In recent years, Julian had operated a mobile retail menswear service, “Milton’s Without Walls,” family members said. Bruce Julian still operates Bruce Julian Clothiers, which opened in Charlotte in 1965.