When Charlie Rossbach was a teenager, his mother, Millie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was around this time that Rossbach began helping his father, Carl, run the family business: Rossbach Shoes.
At the time, Rossbach, now 78, was still considering being a salesman, possibly for a large Boston-based distributor. But when his mother died in 1961, Rossbach knew he was needed at home. Even when he attended Dutchess Community College to study retail management, he would return to Gloversville on weekends to help his father with the store and other chores.
“I grew up really fast,” Rossbach said. “I had to do a lot of things at home. I cleaned, I cooked. I did everything – keep the house for my father.
Rossbach’s decision to help the store became a continuation of a family affair. His father, Carl, chose to leave the glove industry to take over the shoe store in 1945, when Rossbach’s grandfather, Christian, died of cancer.
“Probably to maintain the legacy,” Rossbach said. ” I really do not know. I never asked him that question. But he took it all these years. And then in 1959 or 1960, I started to intervene.
This week, the store celebrated its 100th anniversary. During this time, Rossbach Shoes has spanned three generations, weathering the Great Depression, the downfall of the leather and tanning industries in Gloversville, the rise of e-commerce, and the scourge of COVID-19.
Launched on February 1, 1922, Rossbach Shoes was the company of Christian Rossbach. Rossbach’s grandfather opened the business in the 1870s building on West Fulton Street after he was passed over for promotions as an insurance salesman, Rossbach said.
Although the inventory of a few thousand pairs of shoes stashed in piles of messy boxes — which Rossbach says he cataloged in his memory — has shifted from dress shoes to colorful sneakers over the years, the customer service remains.
“Always be nice to people,” Rossbach said. This has served him well during the more than 60 years he has worked at the store, where he estimates he spends around 55 hours a week. With the help of his late wife Rosemarie’s teaching income, the store was enough to help support the family of five. The store is open daily except Sundays and attracts customers from across the region, Rossbach said.
It also attracts local customers like Bill Rowback, a 56-year-old resident of Gloversville. Rowback happens to be the chief of the Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department, of which Rossbach is a member. So Rowback added perspective on Rossbach’s character.
“He is very authentic. He is a very humble man. He’s that person inside the company and outside the company,” Rowback said. And he was a member [with Pleasant Square VFD] for over 45 years. This shows a true testimony of a local businessman who gives back to the community, not only by working and selling his wares, but he also gives back to the community with his service.
Joe Gillis has run Dunday’s clothing store – which he says opened in 1949 – for more than four decades. He considers Rossbach a mentor and admires his commitment.
“Can you imagine going to a store 6 days a week for over 50 years straight? It takes a lot of dedication to your craft,” Gillis said.
Gillis said local stores like Rossbach Shoes give downtown Gloversville its charm.
“It gives you a hometown feel. When you walk into a store and you know the store owner, and they call you by name, it gives you a sense of community,” Gillis said. “It sounds like cheesy little things, but customers who support downtown, that’s how they feel.”
Rossbach took over individual ownership of the company in January 1988, and he still remembers the trepidation he felt during the first days on the job without his father.
“I was scared because I was alone,” he said. “I didn’t have it to guide me.”
Rossbach and her father had shared a lot of time in the store, never really talking about anything in particular, but focusing their attention on the tasks – ordering shoes, tidying up the store, and tending to customers.
“He was pretty strict,” Rossbach said of his father. “You couldn’t hesitate. He had a definite way of what he wanted to do. But we always got along well. »
Rossbach assumes that he and his father processed their grief over losing Rossbach’s mother while working at the store, but they never explicitly said anything about it.
Still, that’s probably why when Rossbach’s wife of over 50 years fell ill with kidney disease last year, Rossbach kept working.
Rosemarie’s illness rapidly worsened. And when she died on Memorial Day in 2021, Rossbach remembers her son asking if he planned to work the next day.
“I went to work and it helped me,” Rossbach said. “It kept my mind in there, and I had people come up to me asking how I was doing, and that helped. It helped enormously. »
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.