GLOVERSVILLE — On a hot Saturday afternoon earlier this month, Charles Rossbach propped open the front door of his shoe store, with its interior shaped like a shoe box, and sat in one of the chairs used by customers while he is placing new stock on their feet.
A motorcycle passed in front of 10 West Fulton St., and the jarring blast was amplified by the street’s shallow canyon of commercial buildings. Rossbach waited for the noise, which rushed through the open doorway and down the two narrow aisles that sit atop a hardwood floor and under a stamped-tin ceiling, to recede. The owner and sole employee then provided a visitor with a capsule summary of Rossbach Shoes.
“Same family, same name, same location,” he said. “Not much has changed.”
Just like his grandfather did, and then his father, Rossbach still sits on a footstool to measure a patron’s foot and then lace up the footwear prior to a trial walk around the store. He has Brannock devices, the metal plates which determine the length of a person’s foot, along with its width and the location of the arch. But he prefers the use of a wooden tool, made long ago by Dr. Scholl’s, before he heads off to the aisles to retrieve a box and bring it back to the footstool.
“You want to know something?” Rossbach asked, holding the Scholl’s measurement device, which is simpler and smaller than a Brannock. It was also a favorite of his father. “This is the best measuring stick, over those Brannocks. This is more accurate than any other.”
His grandfather, Christian Rossbach, opened the store in February 1922. His father, Carl Rossbach took over in 1945 and ran it until 1988. Charles Rossbach assumed control 33 years ago, but he’s been working here since 1960.
The store’s third owner looks much younger than his 77 years. Rossbach said that by nature he is not wound tight — and feels this is an important attribute for any public-facing merchant. On this warm day, his interactions with customers featured a quiet demeanor.
“Usually, if you stay calm and are decent to everybody, it usually works out for the best,” Rossbach said. “I think that’s what’s kept us going here all those years.”
In a few hours he would close the store, after six consecutive working days, and enjoy a day of rest on Sunday. He said he used to have an employee, but Rossbach Shoes has been a solo operation for the last 20 years.
Shoes range in price from $19.99 to $170. A sidewalk sign, lettered in chalk by Rossbach, advertised women’s winter boots were being cleared at 50 percent off the normal price. The owner said some customers had taken advantage of the sale and purchased five pairs of winterized footwear.
An older couple entered the store. As the man removed his sunglasses, he said “What did I tell you about this place?” to his companion. The woman took a seat and smiled as she looked about the place.
Rossbach said he frequently hears comments about what people perceive as a retro retailing operation, but does not consider them rude. He likes how the store is not very different from his first working days here in 1960. His little store, filled with shoe boxes, cannot be confused with a big box store.
The man said that he and the woman would soon be married, and his future wife needed a pair of comfortable shoes to wear to the ceremony. Rossbach went over to the first aisle, which is narrower than the second aisle, in front of the sales counter, and returned with a box.
The woman, standing in the sensible white shoes Rossbach had found for her wedding day, nodded her approval. Sales price: $59.99.
The man removed three $20 bills from a bank envelope and paid Rossbach. This was their wedding fund, he explained.
As they departed, the man said he would return before the fall to buy some new work boots.
“We stay steady here, with business,” Rossbach said later. “It’s a very old shoe store that’s independent. There aren’t many of them anymore.”
Rossbach said he faces competition from online retailers and big-box stores, but there has always been competition. Years ago, Rossbach Shoes competed against other shoe stores in Gloversville. Some were independent shops and some were a part of national chains.
Rossbach Shoes still sells many pairs of work shoes every year, according to its owner, but fewer pairs than when there were more factories in the area. Sneakers, women’s shoes, work boots and slippers are the largest segments, along with specialty shoes.
“We do sell dance shoes, tap shoes, ballet shoes, jazz shoes and toe shoes,” Rossbach said.
Charles Rossbach is a father of three. Two of his children live outside the area, but one son still resides in Gloversville. Rossbach said this fourth generation could eventually take over the family business, but there is no formal transition plan. The man who has been on the staff since 1960 and the owner since 1988 has no desire to even discuss retirement.
“You just put your head down and keep plowing,” he said. “I never asked for much. I just worked and worked.”