(WETM) – Thomas Jacob Hilfiger, better known as Tommy, grew up in a tiny two-unit home on Laurel Street in Elmira, sharing a bedroom with multiple siblings before moving to West Elmira.
The son of a jeweler and nurse, he would turn his dream from a basement in downtown Elmira into a multi-billion dollar global brand known by one word: Tommy.
A student at Elmira Free Academy, Tommy started to recognize his own father’s fashion choices, and didn’t start liking fashion until his early teens.
“I started out mowing lawns and delivering newspapers and having part-time jobs,” noting in his book working at Lou Pal’s sporting goods store and the Hess gas station.
Living in Elmira “was idyllic” for Tommy, who watched the rise of Ernie Davis and realized he too could live his dream.
While Elmira was idyllic, Tommy spent time traveling to New York City, Ithaca, and Hyannis. There he saw “head shops” that sold clothing, candles, and incense.
There his vision for a unique kind of store in Elmira grew, and on December 1, 1969, he opened People’s Place.
Along with Jonathan Allen and Larry Stemerman, Tommy put in $150 to rent a 5,000 square foot store for $50 a month and to buy 20 pairs of bell-bottom jeans in New York City. They also bought jewelry from a shop in Cape Cod, and would sell everything from records to candles, to incents.
They would go on to open several more stores in the area, from Corning to Cortland to Ithaca.
Fast-forward to 2019 and the Tommy Hilfiger brand is internationally known, leading to several Designer of the Year awards from publications such as GQ and the Parsons School of Design.
Tommy still finds time to come back to the Twin Tiers and has been a staple in the Elmira community, helping build the Ernie Davis Community Center. He’s also very active in the fight to eradicate Lyme’s Disease, breast cancer, and MS.
Tommy also helped create Camp Tommy in Fishkill, New York as part of the Fresh Air Fund, helping get underprivileged kids outdoors and giving them new opportunities.
Thank you to the Hilfiger family and the entire team at Tommy Hilfiger for their support for this project.