A local custom clothier is relocating its flagship store to a neighboring downtown building recently purchased along East Washington Street, with plans to refresh the building’s facade and add another floor.
Benzal Menswear, currently located at 22 E. Washington St., plans to move down the block—to 38 E. Washington St.—in coming months, according to documents filed with the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.
Diallo Investment Group LLC, a holding company for J. Benzal owners Mamadou “Ben” Diallo and Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, acquired the two-story building at 38 E. Washington St. for $950,000 late last year, according to county records. The building has seen a revolving door of users in recent years—most recently a short-lived Go Stir Fry restaurant that closed in 2023.
“Ben has always had a desire to own the building that the store operates from, so when that building became available he was really excited about the opportunity to expand the business and own the building,” Shaheed-Diallo said.
She said both the need for additional space and a renewed desire to play a role downtown were major factors in the company’s decision.
“After COVID, there were a lot of questions about the revitalization of downtown and will whether people would stay or not. We believe there’s so much power in having a vibrant downtown, so we really wanted to invest in and be a part of that,” Shaheed-Diallo said. “This is our way of putting a stake in the ground and believing in the power of a vibrant downtown and business community.”
The shop sustained heavy losses from vandals and looters during riots and protests over the weekend of May 29, 2020, following the police killing of death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Shaheed-Diallo told IBJ days later that she and Diallo supported the protests but felt looters took advantage of the unrest. And she said they intended to stay downtown and rebuild.
“We love the city,” she said in 2020. “This is home for us. We love being downtown and we love all the investment in downtown. We just hope that a lot of the economic progress that we’ve seen in the city will be realized by more people.”
Benzal, which specializes in formal menswear such as suits, shirts, shoes and ties, opened its first store in 2008 on Massachusetts Avenue. It moved in 2018 to its current spot on Washington Street, where it occupies about 2,600 square feet.
Diallo plans to use the first floor of 38 E. Washington St. for the retail store, occupying about 1,900 square feet—three-quarters of which would be used to display merchandise and for fitting rooms. The space would be about 18 feet wide by 119 feet deep, including rear storage and break room areas, as well as a stairwell with access to the basement and upper floors.
The second floor would be used for office space and storage for J. Benzal and Diallo’s business ventures, according to the IHPC documents. The offices would account for about 1,600 square feet and include a conference space, a waiting and reception area, four dedicated offices, open office space, a restroom and storage. Part of that space would be used for the Diallos’ business ventures, while other portions could be leased as coworking space.
A third-floor addition consisting of about 1,500 square feet is proposed for the building, with two one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom apartment units at 770 square feet and 720 square feet, respectively. The units could be used as monthly-rent apartments or as short-term rentals for convention visitors and others, Shaheed-Diallo said.
The filings also includes a plan to put a new facade on the building, featuring gray aluminum curtainwall, glass and signage for J. Benzal.
The updates to the building are required to go before the IHPC because the project is located within a downtown historic district. Modifications to a facade and additions to a building require approval. The property must also receive a variance of use, because the required number of residential units in a property zoned CBD-1 that have apartments is five. The matter is set to go before the commission on Feb. 7.
Aside from its downtown location, J. Benzal has a store in the Fashion Mall at Keystone that has been open since late 2018. It previously had a store in Carmel City Center that opened in 2013 and closed during the pandemic.
A timeline for plans to move the business to the new location—and when construction will be completed on the expansion—has not been finalized, but the move would likely come quickly after IHPC’s approval, Shaheed-Diallo said.