Mac Christensen, founder of Utah-based Mr. Mac men’s clothing chain, dead at 85

(Tom Kelly | Tribune file photo) Mac Christensen, the man behind the Mr. Mac clothing stores, poses on a ladder along shelves of dress shirts in the spring of 1990 in what was then his new store at 135 S. Main St. in Salt Lake City.

Customers milled around the Mr. Mac clothing store Saturday at the City Creek Center, looking through the racks of men’s suiting pieces that made the store a household name for Utah’s Latter-day Saint faithful. Stuart Christensen — one of founder Mac Christensen’s sons — worked behind a counter, just like he had most days for the past several years.

But Saturday wasn’t exactly a normal work day, because on Friday, after a long battle with a heart issue, Fred MacRay “Mac” Christensen died. He was 85.

Stuart Christensen said it was surreal showing up for work at the business his dad built knowing his father wasn’t around anymore, but he added with a smile that his father wouldn’t have wanted him to stay home and mourn.

“Obviously, he was a determined, hard-driving businessman that worked hard and cared about the business,” he said, “so in some ways we honor him by working hard and showing up everyday and not becoming negligent, and putting in a full day’s work.”

Mac Christensen launched his first store, Mac’s Clothes Closet, in Bountiful in early 1960s with his father, Fred, and wife, Joan. The suits became the unofficial uniform for generations of male missionaries whom The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent from Utah to knock on doors around the world.

Mr. Mac advertisements for what the stores called the Missionary Starter Package — a black suit with an extra pair of pants, black shoes, four white dress shirts and four ties — were ubiquitous on Salt Lake City television stations. Older Latter-day Saints bought white suits from Mr. Mac for temple ceremonies. They bought more conventional jackets, shirts and ties to wear to Sunday services or the office. (Mr. Mac’s website, at least, does not offer clothing for women, though over the years his stores sold women’s attire, too.)

Even after Mac Christensen sold the business to his sons and officially retired, he often appeared in the ads wearing the same clothes he was selling.

By 1990, Christensen had 13 stores in Utah and Idaho, and he owned the building on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City where his then-flagship store was located. That outlet had shelves of dress shirts stacked to the top of the 14-foot ceiling, as well as a 10-person tailor shop.

There are now 10 Mr. Mac stores in Utah and Arizona, according to the chain’s website — including a recently opened outlet in Gilbert, Ariz. Mac Christensen belonged to the same religion to which his stores catered, making it difficult at times to tell where his business ended and his faith began.

Mac Christensen served as president of the then-Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 2000 to 2012, at the behest of then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

For years, a Mr. Mac store was located in the church-owned ZCMI Center Mall near Temple Square. When the LDS Church tore down ZCMI in 2007, a Mr. Mac store became a prominent tenant of the mall’s replacement, City Creek Center, when it opened in 2012.

(Tribune file photo) Mac Christensen, known as clothing retailer Mr. Mac, in this undated photo.

In the book “The Mormon Murders,” authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith recounted how Christensen would send truckloads of suits to the homes of the church’s general authorities to let them try on. Once church elders had picked out their attire, the bills were discounted, if they were asked to pay at all.

“What was good for the church,” Naifeh and Smith wrote, “was good for business, Mac Christensen believed.”

“The Mormon Murders,” which recounts the 1985 bombings committed by forger Mark Hofmann, details how one of those bombs killed Christensen’s son Steven Christensen.

The son, a document collector, had paid $40,000 for the so-called “White Salamander Letter” that challenged LDS Church teachings. It was a forgery, and Hofmann later admitted he planted the bomb that killed Steven Christensen and a second one that killed Kathy Sheets in an effort to distract attention from his forgeries.

(Tribune file photo) Steven F. Christensen, seen here in a photo taken sometime before his death in 1985, was killed by one of the bombs set by Mark Hofmann.

The Christensen family traveled annually to Steven Christensen’s grave in Centerville to remember his life.

“I was always an eye-for-an-eye guy until this happened,” Mac Christensen told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2005. “But you have to forgive. You can’t have any hatred.”

Mac Christensen was also a paid political consultant to the most influential Latter-day Saint politician of his era, Orrin Hatch. The former U.S. senator, now chairman-emeritus of the Salt Lake City-based Hatch Foundation, issued a statement Saturday calling Mac Christensen “a powerful force for good in this world, helping men of all ages look their best selves to be their best selves.”

“May God bless Mac and the entire Christensen family,” Hatch said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Christensen “was a true gentleman and a successful entrepreneur."

“He loved and cared about everyone and everyone loved him in return,” Herbert wrote on Twitter. “He was a living legend here in Utah and beyond. He was known for his kindness, service and charitable giving.”

(Gerald Herbert | AP file photo) President George W. Bush poses with National Medal of the Arts recipients during a ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003. Mac Christensen, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is at far right.

Mac Christensen was born May 11, 1934, in Ephraim. He worked for seven years in men’s merchandise for ZCMI, and three years for the Idaho Department Stores as a divisional merchandise manager for men’s and boy’s clothing.

He then decided to go into business for himself. For all the ways he was tied into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he insisted the real secret to his success was service.

“We personally wait on customers,” Mac Christensen told The Tribune in 1990. “It’s personalized service as opposed to picking up a shirt yourself and taking it to the check-out or having kids who get $5 an hour waiting on customers. Our salespeople are real pros.”

Stuart Christensen said that working at the store, his father is never far from his mind. The man’s name is on the building after all, he said, so it’s hard to forget him.

His father’s portrait, too, adorns a pillar at the City Creek location, beaming at customers from above a selection of belts.

Stuart Christensen said he and workers at the other stores would keep his father’s legacy alive by doing business in the unique and personal way they had for decades.

“Even though he’s gone, it’s still his business," Stuart Christensen said. “We feel like that’s the way to go forward.”

Mac Christensen also was known for extensive philanthropic work, including support of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Besides Joan and Stuart Christensen, Mac Christensen’s survivors include son Scott, Stan and Spencer Christensen; daughters Sydnie Shurtliff, Shauna Cleverly and Sara Ebert; brothers Michael and Marcus Christensen; a sister, Maud Thurman; 39 grandchildren, and 44 great-grandchildren. An obituary paid for by his family said two great-great-grandchildren are forthcoming.

Besides Steven Christensen, Mac Christensen was preceded in death by his sister Margaret Ann Bott.

A public viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m on Oct. 20 at Russon Mortuary, 295 N. Main St. in Bountiful. A funeral will be held the next day at noon at the Bountiful Central Stake Center, 640 S. 750 East.