The “pop, pop, pop” of machine guns could be heard as World War II raged on the Western Front and forever changed millions of lives. Teenaged Paul Eickhoff, a native of St. Philip in nearby Posey County, lay among those wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45. He was shot 12 times, stabbed in the back, and left on the battlefield, his injuries resulting in lost usage of his right arm. Although Eickhoff was hindered physically, these circumstances did not stop him from pursuing his goals and realizing several milestones, including founding Paul’s Menswear in Evansville.
Eickhoff was born to a poor, country family with five siblings. At the age of 16, he and his twin brother joined the army. “They were born at home. They had no birth certificate, so they could lie about their age,” says Eickhoff’s son Steve.
Eickhoff spent three years in the hospital but never fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in battle.
“When my dad got out of the hospital, he had no skills because he dropped out of high school after his sophomore year,” Steve says.
As he searched for work, Eickhoff met Art Abel, owner of Abel’s Menswear on Evansville’s Franklin Street. Although Eickhoff lacked a completed secondary education, Abel offered to hire him, an offer that left Eickhoff shocked. He reportedly asked Abel, “Why do you want to hire me? I can’t even tie somebody’s shoes.” Abel responded, “Tell them to tie their own damn shoes. You are a veteran. We’ll see use of your hands.”
Eickhoff worked for Abel until the former purchased the store from the latter in 1963. Evansville’s local men’s clothing store began its new chapter as Paul’s Menswear, becoming a family owned and operated business.
“I have a brother, John, who works here, and my son Brian works here. All my nieces and nephews, at one point or another, have worked here during high school. Two of my grandsons come in and work part time,” Steve says.
Members of the Eickhoff family have spent hours completing daily tasks ranging from accounting and buying to sweeping the floors and checking inventory. Steve and his siblings were raised in Evansville and attended Mater Dei High School. When he wasn’t busy with after-school activities like football or wrestling, Steve helped his father at the store.
“You always did something as a kid. There were always jobs that needed to be done,” Steve says. “You would get merchandise in every day. Those were things that you could mark. I started waiting on customers when I was in high school.”
As he worked toward an accounting degree at the University of Southern Indiana, Steve balanced the responsibility of helping run a business with schoolwork.
“All during college, I worked here and went to school in the day, in the evenings, and summers. I still got my degree in four years,” he says. “My wife started working here when we were in college. We ended up getting married two weeks after we graduated from USI.”
Steve assumed ownership after Eickhoff passed away in February 1994. Over the years, Paul’s Menswear moved between four different storefronts but has always been positioned on Franklin Street.
“The first location was up where Chaser’s Bar & Grill is, and we rented half of that building,” Steve says. “Back around 1995, we bought the buildings here. We bought four houses behind us, tore those down for parking lots, and built our own building. We’ve been here ever since.”
As a family business with deep roots in the community, shoppers continue to support the shop at 2225 W. Franklin St.
“In the last 10 years, I’ve noticed people like to shop locally now. I think people enjoy having somebody (who) knows them. I think they enjoy the service,” Steve says.
Things are evolving for Paul’s Menswear, as its services have expanded to wedding and prom suits and are being promoted to reach a younger generation of customers.
“Our business is better than it’s ever been. Business is very, very good right now,” Steve says. “For a while, our customer age had aged. Now, with weddings and proms, it’s amazing how many customers we have in their 20s and 30s. Now, we sell a whole lot more slim-fit shirts and slim suits,” Steve says.
Paul’s Menswear carries formal attire as well as trending brands.
“It’s funny when guys come in who haven’t been in before, and they’re really excited to see that we carry Levi’s or things that aren’t suits,” says said Kelley Conners, who has worked at Paul’s Menswear since 2015.
“Mr. Abel used to always say that you should never judge somebody by the way they dress. He said, ‘The guy that comes in a pair of overalls has got just as much money as the guy who’s driving a brand-new Cadillac,’” Steve says. “He said you treat everybody the same, no matter how they look or how they act, and always treat everybody fair. And I think customers have realized that over the years. I think that’s why we have so many loyal customers that keep coming back.”
Editor’s note: This article was written by Nora Ruotolo, a sports communications major at the University of Evansville, as part of Dr. Tamara Wandel’s Integrated Communication Campaigns class.