uggs nordstrom The Memory Of Bob Surplus Will Linger Long After Bankruptcy
There’s no sign of the old Bob’s Stores location on Main Street, let alone Bob’s Surplus, as the 63 year old retailer was known for its first few decades.
Bob’s left its wood floored, downtown store with its basement shoe department years ago in favor of a plaza a mile to the south, a strip mall bereft of personality in a row with a Dollar Tree, Marshalls and Stop Shop. That move was long after the founder, Bob Lapidus, sold to corporate owners in 1990.
Despite the move and despite a series of owners that made Bob’s a sister company at various times to CVS, Thom McAn, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and now Eastern Mountain Sports, there was comfort in the fact that Bob’s was still in Middletown.
Now, it appears, that will come to an end as the latest owner has quietly declared in a court filing that it would close nine of 13 Connecticut stores including Middletown’s as part of a bankruptcy reorganization.
Nine Connecticut locations of Bob’s Stores may close, according to bankruptcy proceedings for the clothing and shoe store’s parent company, Eastern Outfitters LLC.
The company has proposed closing the Bob’s Stores in Middletown where the first store opened in 1954 along with stores in Enfield,.”He said, ‘We will never leave Middletown,'” Lapidus recalled. “The anchor Bob’s was such a staple in the community.”
Marc Lapidus, of Portland, worked while growing up, then for a few years in his 20s, for his father but he and his brother both went into real estate. His memory of Bob’s, and of his father, Bob, as a quiet, constant, generous presence is widely shared. Bob Lapidus, like the store, was a local fixture dedicated to customer service and Main Street community in a way that corporate owners can’t muster.
I was a college student in Middletown in those great middle years, when Bob’s Surplus T shirts in many colors, often available for free or a buck or two, were a sort of town uniform.
“The square footage was much smaller than what it is now,” Lapidus said. “We used to hang stuff from the ceiling on steel rods.”
Everyone understands that the retail world has changed, but for longtime customers reacting to the news this week, the word that comes up every time is “sad.”
“You could still find everything,” said Sue Kenny, a Portland resident who was at Bob’s on Tuesday.
The chain not to be confused with the unrelated Bob’s Discount Furniture later grew to nearly 50 locations before this latest retrenchment.
Bob Lapidus, from Turners Falls, Mass., moved to Middletown after serving in the Navy in the Korean War. He initially sold Army and Navy surplus goods such as knives and flashlights and survival gear, then moved to shoes and apparel after the Knapp work boot for factory workers, and jeans for young people, took off.
The store was closed on Sundays but on Saturdays, Bob would drive to the shoe factories in Worcester, sometimes with Marc, to fill the family station wagon with work boots.
“I’d lay flat on top of the boxes until we got home because that was the way we could fit more boxes into the car,” said Marc, 54.
This is not a story about the mass demise of independent retail, at least not in Middletown. Back on Main Street on the same block that Bob’s left, Diane Gervais owns Amato’s Toy Hobby with her husband, Joel. That store, founded in 1940 by Gervais’ father, Vinny Amato, when he was just 14, is one of a healthy group of family owned retailers and restaurants that make Middletown arguably the most successful downtown in Connecticut.
“We keep changing with the times and we’re blessed to have wonderful customers,” said Gervais, whose brother owns the Amato’s in New Britain. Every day she sees customers buying for their children and grandchildren who were small children themselves in the same store.
Gervais remembers the “Jean Machine” at Bob’s, which would send pairs of jeans down a chute after a customer placed an order. When Bob’s left, she said, “Obviously that was a drawback,” and also obviously, its departure was part of a national trend.
But she said, “Middletown really has worked at surviving.”
Meriden based Eastern Outfitters LLC, which filed the bankruptcy plan as part of a long running case, did not return calls seeking comment.
The latest pressure on retailers is not the quest to occupy big boxes but rather the shift to online purchasing. One shopper at Bob’s on Tuesday, who gave only her first name, Pat, was in 10th grade at Woodrow Wilson High School when Bob’s opened in 1954, and can’t understand how anyone can buy shoes without trying them on.
“That was the place to go for jeans and shoes,” Pat said adding that jeans, in those days, were strictly forbidden in schools, and in polite company.