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Mr. Cool caters to adventurous dressers

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Mr. Cool's Tom Choi Little Rock image
  • Brian Chilson
  • Tom Choi

Mr. Cool shouldn't, by all rights, exist in this day and age. A general clothing store in a downtown core, it's like something out of another era, with a rack of shoes arranged in the doorway and big glass show windows displaying wigs and boots and hats. The store's orange, hanging sign — once lighted, but long since burned out and dark — is as much an icon of Main Street Little Rock as the big, carefully restored Cave's Jewelers clock up the street, even if the ladies window-shopping with purses on their arms jilted Main for the mall 40 years ago. Mr. Cool is owned by Tom Choi, a Korean immigrant who bought the store, which had previously been called Stein's, in 1980. His grasp of English isn't so hot, but he's a likeable old guy — 82 years old, born in 1930, though he looks younger. "I am keeping myself very well," he said. "Every day I'm taking exercise and eating vegetables."

Choi said he gets customers of all kinds — black, white, Hispanic. The day we visited, two twenty-something girls were wading the narrow aisles, mining the racks for vintage gold.

Inside, Mr. Cool is a time warp, with trendy urban wear hung next to clothes that look like they were frozen in carbonite and shipped express postage from 1978. In one room is what might be the best selection of hats in Little Rock and maybe the state: homburgs and fedoras, porkpies and royal blue bowlers — serious, going-to-church hats — along with ladies' hats in all colors, arrayed like birds of paradise roosted in puffs of chiffon. On a rack in the other room, there's a Joan Jett-grade leather motorcycle jacket, size small, never worn, dripping chrome buckles and zippers, the ancient tag reading $49.95. There is a full denim suit. There is a brown fur coat, shaggy as a grizzly. A pair of go-go boots with straps running from ankle to thigh. Round-domed car caps in black, brown and straw. A crooked line of wig forms. Tank-top undershirts with gold metallic trim. Men's shoes that span the color wheel, including a pair of bright-red patent-leather loafers big enough to serve as small speedboats, size Frankenstein. There's a blue wool military coat, complete with gold buttons and epaulets. There's a rack of men's leather pants sized for men whose asses are probably too large to ever warrant a pair of leather pants. Back in the dressing room, though, is the piece-de-resistance: a yellowed poster featuring dudes with Burt Reynolds mustaches modeling the hottest underwear styles of 1976, including a horrific pair of white, semi-transparent banana hangers that makes the dude's junk look like an alien parasite, in utero. It might be worth paying a visit to Mr. Cool just for that relic alone, though there are definitely some treasures to be had for those willing to dig.

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