More than a century of shoes

GLOVERSVILLE – Staying power and selling shoes are two things that run in Charles Rossbach’s family.

Charles, 70, has been selling shoes at Rossbach Shoes in downtown Gloversville since he was 14. He started out working for his father Carl Rossbach. Carl Rossbach operated Rossbach Shoes from 1945 until 1989, when he finally retired at the age of 90. Carl had inherited the business from his own father Christian Rossbach, who founded Rossbach Shoes in 1922.

Christian Rossbach had been an employee of Bell Clothing Company, which had been selling clothing and shoes out of 10 W. Fulton St. since at least the 1890s. When Bell Clothing split the components of its retail business, it sold the shoe business to Christian Rossbach.

“That’s how he acquired the shoe end of it,” Charles said, standing in the same retail space operated by three generations of his family. “This store location has been a continuous store location since the 1890s, which I?think is pretty impressive.”?

Changing business

Rossbach Shoes has operated through the roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, all the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, the rise and fall of the local leather industry and the Great Recession.

Charles Rossbach said he’s seen many things change over the years and decades, not the least of which has been his merchandise. He said when he started in the business in the late ’50s he and his father mainly sold dress shoes to men, women and children. The shoes were all the basic colors of leather footwear, mostly black and brown.

“You used to have certain men’s shoes, certain women’s shoes that people would just come in and buy over and over and over again and you just kept filling in the shoe sizes as you sold them off and you didn’t have this change that you have today,” he said. “This was from the ’50s, into the ’60s and ’70s and partially the ’80s. It started to change in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”?

Charles Rossbach said sneakers changed the shoe game forever, starting in the ’70s.

“First it started out with the canvas sneakers, and one particular brand came out and all of a sudden it was a navy blue, a royal blue, a white and black and all of a sudden it was an array of colors,”?he said. “It became a rainbow”

Charles said Rossbach Shoes still sells dress shoes – brands like Bostonian, Nunn Bush and Climate -but he said the majority of his business now is selling sneakers.

“There are a lot more sneakers sold today than dress shoes, there are some dress shoes sold but not like it used to be,” he said.

Another change has been the level of customer traffic through downtown. Charles Rossbach said shopping patterns have changed over the years, which has made his personal relationships with his customers more important.

“Shopping centers pull traffic out, but I?have a lot of loyal customers who want to support me and keep me going. I’ve had a lot of them tell me that,” he said.

Consistent business model

Although the shoes he sells have changed and evolved over the years, the way he sells them has not.

Charles Rossbach said he learned some of his business skills when he earned an associates degree in retail management from Dutchess Community College in 1963, but a lot of it he learned watching his father run the business for so many years.

“You have to be friendly to people. If you talk to people, you can learn a lot. You have to make it interesting for the customer, so you try to joke around with them and have fun,” he said.

Rossbach Shoes also rents its space and has never owned or wanted to own the building it operates out of, Charles Rossbach said.

Another key part of Rossbach Shoes’ business model is its hours of operation. Charles Rossbach said his store is open six days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and then from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. When Rossbach Shoes is open, that means Charles Rossbach is working, because he doesn’t have any employees. He said he has children who’ve helped him run the store whenever he’s taken any time off, but that doesn’t happen very often.

  • “I just work. You have to put your time in,” he said.

Joe Gillis, the owner-operator of another long-tenured downtown business, Dunday’s Men’s Wear, said he has been sending his clothing customers to Rossbach Shoes for footwear for years and Charles Rossbach sends his footwear customers to Dunday’s for suits.

“I mean this sincerely, he’s one of the last true gentlemen of retail,” Gillis said. “He’s a guy I can bounce ideas off and ask questions to. Anyone who can stay in business for over 50 years, has to operate with honor and integrity and that’s how Charlie does things; he makes his customers his friends.”

Not done yet

Charles Rossbach said if his father and his grandfather could see him now they’d be impressed by how long he’s kept the business open, something he intends to keep doing as long as his health is good. He said he might one day turn the business over to one of his children, but not any time soon. He said he still enjoys the work.

“There isn’t any big money in it but it’s been going so long, I want to keep it going,” he said. “It’s just the challenge of buying merchandise and seeing it go out, seeing what sells and seeing the reactions from the customers.”