Herbert ‘Herbie’ Bernick, legendary men’s clothier in St. Paul, dies at 90

“Mr. Milbern” has been fitted for his final suit.

Herbert “Herbie” Bernick, the second of four generations of fathers and sons running the Milbern Clothing Co. in St. Paul, has died. He passed away peacefully Feb. 7 at age 90, surrounded by family. His health had been deteriorating over the past two years, and he had been residing at an assisted-living facility.

“He was a true gentleman,” said Steven Bernick, Herbie’s son and successor at the Milbern store. “He greeted everybody with a smile. He treated everybody the same no matter what their background was or what their status was. He had an unbelievable ability to relate to people in their own way.”

Herbie was born and raised in St. Paul. He attended Central High School and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in business.

The son of a Polish immigrant, he knew what it was to start from nothing, having watched his father, Milton Bernick, build a business using a cigar box as a cash register.

Herbie’s father came to the United States in 1921. After working 23 years for a clothing wholesaler, Milton struck out on his own with Milton’s Clothing Co. in 1946.

Herbie grew up emptying wastebaskets and cleaning the store in the Cass Gilbert Building in downtown St. Paul. He eventually became a salesman and took over the business.

After college, he served in the Army. He was stationed in Germany just as the Korean War was ending. He continued serving in the  Army Reserve until retiring with the rank of colonel.

“They had a position for him in the Army to become general,” Steve said, “but he turned it down to stay here and stay with the business and the family. That was more important to him.”

After returning from active duty, he enrolled in graduate courses at the U, where he met Marcia, his wife of nearly 65 years. The two were married in 1956 and together raised three children — daughter Sheila Rutman and sons Alan and Steven Bernick.

The couple treasured spending time with family and developed lasting traditions, such as Friday night dinners and wintering in Florida.

Milton’s Clothing Co. grew to two stores — the second opened on University Avenue in 1956. Eventually, the family businesses recombined, as did the name. Milton’s and Bernick’s became the Milbern Clothing Co.

The company moved four times, pursuing retail hot spots.

First, the family moved the store from the Cass Gilbert Building to the nearby Endicott Building, then to Galtier Plaza, now called Cray Plaza. In 1995, they moved to the World Trade Center, now called Wells Fargo Place. Finally, in 2000, the downtown and Midway stores consolidated into the current store on University Avenue.

Herbie was passionate about the men’s retail clothing business and built long-lasting rapport with his customers.

Through the years, Herbie, or “Mr. Milbern,” has sold suits to clergy, football and hockey stars, Winter Carnival figures, past mayors and legislators, 3M executives and lots and lots of grooms and groomsmen.

“Everybody just became his friend,” Steve said. “He had this ability to remember names, which was unreal. He could remember all his customers, and not only the customers, but the whole family’s tree. It was amazing.”

He stayed active with the business until his health began to decline around age 88.

“He never wanted to lose the feel of the business,” Steve said. “He was always interested, always concerned.”

Herbie was a strong supporter of the St. Paul business community and many local charities. He was a longtime member of the Osman Shrine and the Royal Order of Jesters, where he perfected his clowning skills as “Zippo.” Even his car’s license plates said “Zippo.”

He is survived by his wife and their children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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