Rick and Jim Penn of Puritan Cape Cod, know all about dreaming big even when the economic fabric of America seems to have frayed a bit. As co-owners of one of the commercial pillars of Cape Cod, and the third generation of their family at the helm of Puritan, the two cousins believe that new ideas are crucial for continued success.
Puritan Cape Cod, which encompasses four high-end clothing stores on the Cape and several supporting businesses, has been in the capable hands of the Penn family for decades. Rick and Jim’s grandfather, Abraham, an enterprising immigrant, first explored Cape Cod as a location for his business making wool uniforms for the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Our grandfather was selling anything he could—he was an entrepreneur,” says Jim Penn, Puritan’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Abraham had three children and it was the Depression era. He knew the government had money and needed clothing!” Abraham opened his first store in Plymouth in 1919, and his first Cape store in Chatham in 1925.
For several decades, Abraham and two of his three sons, Milton and Howard (a third son, Edward, was a physician) worked seven days a week, building a retail empire that eventually stretched from Chatham to Falmouth. Abraham died in 1994 at the age of 97, but his son Milton is still a mainstay at Puritan’s flagship store in Hyannis—a 16,000 square-foot haven for male and female shoppers in search of quintessential coastal-inspired fashions and accessories.
Milton, who turned 90 this spring just as Puritan’s Hyannis store received an elegant new façade, still comes to the store every day wearing beautifully tailored suits and shoes shined to a high glow. His gracious manner, old-fashioned gentility, and friendly attitude towards every shopper, are qualities also found in both Rick and Jim.
Still, there is nothing old-fashioned about the Penns’ drive to explore new business ideas. In the last 10 years, the pair have blown out walls on both sides of the brick building in Hyannis center and created two high-end rental spaces now occupied by the classy seafood restaurant Naked Oyster and the popular new Rendezvous Café.
Visitors can also experience a full destination shopping experience by visiting award-winning Solstice Day Spa on Puritan’s lower level. “As part of Puritan’s third generation, Jim and I certainly are big believers in progress,” says Rick Penn, Puritan’s president, whose savvy wife, Julie, is Puritan’s women’s fashion buyer. “Still, even more than change we celebrate our grandfather’s core values.”
The cousins say that Abraham was the inspiration for their latest high-profile venture: the creation of Puritan’s own clothing company featuring a line of top-quality Cape and Island fashions perfect for coastal living. “We’ve been talking about this idea for a while,” says Jim. “We looked at successful products that have endured, and we noticed that a lot honor our country’s heritage with authentic lines—companies like Sperry, Frye Boots, and Converse.”
The Penns worked with a creative team that included several of Puritan’s dedicated, longtime staff members—among them Linda Grice, Puritan’s visual planner, and men’s fashion buyer Robert Harrison—to create their own men’s fashions. Bent on perfection, the team brainstormed ideas for more than a year.
“We spent a lot of time on the story behind the new company; we talked about Abe Penn and his Coast Guard connections and the family’s long history on the Cape,” says Jim. “Rick and I have probably told the story about our grandfather a thousand times between the two of us; but still a lot of people don’t know we started in Chatham, and also, the reasons why we started here. It’s like the L.L. Bean story—there was a real person, L.L. Bean, who created a great boot. It’s a story that means something.”
“We decided to tell a compelling background story to go with this company,” Rick explains. “We said, ‘What is Puritan, what is our brand? We have 94 solid years in business and we carry a lot of top national brands, but still, what is unique about the Puritan experience?’ We were looking for an exclusive line, something shoppers couldn’t find anywhere else.”
Following in the footsteps of L.L. Bean, the Chatham Chino Company was born, featuring a full line of well-designed, classic Cape Cod men’s clothing and accessories for relaxed outdoor living. “When we started Chatham Chinos, there was one word that kept coming up over and over—and that was ‘authentic,’” says Rick.
“We started with a men’s line because it was easy for us,” Jim continues. “Chinos were the uniform of the Coast Guard on Cape Cod; it’s an iconic image and one we know. We spent a ton of time researching authentic fabrics and finishes for the fabric; looking at the right zippers. We even went through lots of buttons to get the right ones.”
Jim says that the fit of the Chatham Chinos—which are made with soft, stonewashed, yet sturdy 100-percent cotton twill—was very important. “We worked with different designs to establish leg openings, knee openings; it was a very detailed process,” Jim explains. “Establishing the right fit for pants is the most difficult thing for a clothing company to do.”
Each pair of chinos includes the Puritan story, which is embossed on the inside pocket of the flat-front pants. The Coast Guard’s famous bright red and blue hurricane double flags were chosen for the Chatham Chinos logo. “It just made sense that the flag is on everything—the hats, polo shirts, sport shirts, belts—everything in the line,” says Rick.
The Penns were so committed to the quality of their brand that they returned the first shipment of 1,000 pairs of Chatham Chinos in 2012, losing an entire summer of profits. “The chinos arrived for our June launching—we were all excited and the labels were right, and everything looked just great,” says Jim. “But we tried the pants on and they were the wrong fit, the wrong silhouette—so we sent the entire order back and waited to launch the line in September.”
“We worked hard with our team to put this all together and we believe we have something very unique with Chatham Chinos,” says Rick, of the line which is showcased this summer in all four of Puritan’s Cape stores and online soon. “This is a real story and one we are proud to tell and share—every shopper gets their own piece of true Cape Cod with Chatham Chinos. It all goes back to something Abraham used to say; if you live in a community, you should give back to the community. This is our way to celebrate the core values our grandfather instilled in us.”
Cape Cod LIFE would like to thank our male models (lifelong Cape Codders and brothers, Will and Charlie Rice), the Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham Light and the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Chatham Pier Fish Market. We would like to give a special thanks to Solstice Day Spa for hair and make-up for all the models.