A tip of the hat to a Van Nuys western wear store that’s been doing business with a handshake for more than a half-century.
- Written byErika Thomas
When you walk through the doors of Country General Store in Van Nuys, you get a lot more than premium western wear and warm service. Customers get what owner Rick Stanoff describes as a kind of “folksy atmosphere.” That authentic vibe, coupled with quality merchandise, is something Rick has strived hard to create in his decades behind the counter.
Opened in 1956 by Rick’s father, Nat, and his Uncle Saul, Country General started out mainly was an Army surplus distributor.
The brothers catered to the neighborhood’s working class, selling functional clothing such as work shirts and boots. “Carhartt, Dickies and a small selection of western boots and accessories were about the extent of what we offered back in those days,” Stanoff recalls.
Within a short time, the shop began carrying military, work and western wear, becoming the first crossover store of its kind in the area. That decision to cater to all three industries proved to be a lucrative one, as the Stanoff brothers were able to appeal to much of the population at that time—the working class along with real cowboys, ranch owners and a handful of celebrities who came for Levi’s, cowboy boots and hats.
Rick and his brother Mike took over the business in 1970, and it wasn’t long before they started making their mark on the business. First up? Changing the merchandise.
Growing up in the rural San Fernando Valley of the 1950s, Stanoff, like many kids, was enthralled by TV cowboys like Gene Autry, Davy Crockett and Roy Rogers. It was a golden era of both suburban America and TV westerns, and the younger Stanoff brothers took note. Eliminating military wear, they made the store completely western in 1978. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the cowboy was experiencing a pop culture rebirth. The John Travolta/Debra Winger film Urban Cowboy, in theaters at the time, made western wear more popular than it had ever been.
It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. Studios wanted Country General to provide wardrobe for their shows. “In the beginning, it was The Waltons, Dallas and M*A*S*H,” Stanoff recalls. And they’re still calling. Nowadays, the list of shows featuring Country Store duds includes NBC’s The Office and ABC’s Modern Family.
Turns out, the shop is also an attraction for tourists. “They love that we can give them a piece of Hollywood history and a piece of the West,” he says.
He credits the Stanoff family’s reputation as to why—some 55 years after opening in the same exact location—they’re as successful as ever. And amidst the towering stack of studio contracts on his desk, Stanoff claims his preferred way of doing business is still “with a handshake.”