Jay Musler was a class act, according to friends and family who described him as a man who always stayed true to the era in which he was born.
Musler died Thursday at age 89, but his legacy will live on in Schenectady, the community he left an impact on.
Just a few weeks ago, Musler could still be seen roaming the streets, greeting customers as they shopped in his clothing store on upper Union Street.
“He was … the unofficial mayor of Union Street,” said Michael Mastroianni, owner of Michael’s Shoe Service on upper Union Street. “He would take his strolls up and down the street. I felt very honored he used to stop in.”
According to his obituary, Jay Musler was born in Waterbury, Conn., but he graduated from Nott Terrace High School in Schenectady in 1941 before going to college at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to study business. He also served in the armed forces during World War II.
In 1926, Musler’s father, Jules, opened a women’s clothing store in Proctors Arcade just a week before Proctors Theatre opened. The store, Musler’s, has survived as a family business in Schenectady for three generations. In 1947, Jay Musler returned to Schenectady and joined the family business.
Musler’s went through many expansions over the years, including at one point having three different locations throughout the area. Many of the expansions and renovations were done under Jay Musler’s direction and planning, according to articles from the Schenectady Gazette.
In 1991, Musler’s left Proctors for upper Union Street, where it remains.
Peter Musler, Jay’s son, attributes the success of the store to the foundation laid by his grandfather and father.
“We have unique items at affordable prices that are not seen all over the place,” Musler said.
Jay Musler was married to Annette for 59 years. She died in 2006 at 83 after a battle with cancer, according to her obituary. Together, they had two children, Mildred Corneau and Peter Musler, and three grandchildren.
Joanne DeVoe, a longtime customer and friend, described Jay and Annette Musler as a beautiful couple. They were both very social and stylish, frequenting parties and Schenectady social events together, she said. Both also dedicated a lot of their time and energy — and their home — to charitable events. And they were extremely supportive of family-owned businesses.
“They were a lovely match,” DeVoe said.
According to his obituary, Jay Musler served as the president of the board of directors of the Downtown Schenectady Business Association. He also served on the Hospice Foundation board, the board of trustees of the Schenectady Jewish Community Center, the board of directors of the American Red Cross and the advisory board of the Salvation Army.
Peter Musler described his father as an active man who was also easygoing and had a great sense of humor.
“He was just a wonderful man,” he said. “Considerate of others.”
DeVoe said Peter and Jay Musler made a great team.
“The tradition will continue at Musler’s through Peter,” she said.
DeVoe said Jay Musler had a work ethic seen in few others. His customer service helped him retain many customers throughout the years.
“Jay was a gentlemen. He really knew how to conduct business,” DeVoe said. “The store is a treasure.”
Just a few weeks ago, DeVoe stopped in the store and Jay Musler was walking up and down the aisles.
“He has gone to work everyday of his life,” she said. “Excellent example for a small businessman.”
Musler’s was built in a time when big corporate retail stores were few and far between and small family businesses dominated Schenectady. Even when the economy changed, Jay Musler continued to make it work.
“He was a retail survivor,” DeVoe said. “It’s that old-fashioned kind of retail that all of us really, really appreciate. Once you were a customer once or twice, he knew your name, your size, your taste.”
During today’s Strawberry Festival, Musler’s will remain open because the family believes that is what Jay Musler would have wanted.
“We have been serving the community for a long time,” Peter Musler said, “and hope to for a long time.”
When people describe Jay Musler, one of the first things they note is how classy he was.
“So dapper,” DeVoe said. “You never saw Jay not looking A-one.”
Mastroianni said he will especially miss Jay Musler stopping in his store to chat about the old days in Schenectady.
“We are going to miss him, that is for sure,” he said. “Classic man of his generation.”