Buchman Shoes has been in business for more than eight decades under the stewardship of three generations.
Its founding in 1925 makes the business far older than the Hush Puppies, Doc Martens and Nike brands that now are sold to eager customers shopping online at sites such as zappos.com.
But after 87 years outfitting the feet of those in Youngstown and the surrounding area, Buchman’s will sell its last pair of shoes next Saturday.
The moment will be bittersweet for Bill Buchman, who inherited the business from his father, Carl, and kept it in the family when he brought in his daughter Beth Ann Dunn to manage the store.
On Friday, the two were quietly at work in their small storefront at 7006 Market St., where men’s and women’s shoes line the walls from top to bottom and a rear showroom awaits those interested in purchasing the collectibles and antiques that Buchman’s wife collected over the years.
It’s not the old smell of shoe leather or the small cash register that tells you the store is a slice of Youngstown’s past, but the smile Buchman casually wears on his face and Dunn’s personal touch as she caters to customers looking to find a perfect pair of shoes as the store offers up a discount for one last week.
“Little businesses everywhere are going through the same thing,” Dunn said as she leaned against a filing cabinet near the store’s stockroom. “We’ve always been a service- and quality-oriented business, but customers these days value cheap prices, and they don’t care if they have to replace shoes every month or two if they cost $20.”
Nonetheless, Buchman’s has its faithful customers, all of whom have been offering tips to stay in business or wishing the family well.
For about five years now, Buchman’s business has dropped off as more customers turn to the Internet to purchase shoes directly from manufacturers.
Over the years, the store was in competition with larger retailers such as Dillard’s and J.C. Penney, but the compounding challenges of doing business in today’s economy, coupled with old and new competition, led Buchman and Dunn to call it quits.
“We’d really like to sell our building. It’s a great location,” Dunn said. “We’ve been doing less business for years now, and I’ve been at this for 23 years — it’s time to try something different.”
Although it’s not all bad, for Buchman, 85, closing is not without its memories.
When the store first opened, it called the Arcade its home in downtown Youngstown, where a stretch of shops ran from West Federal to Commerce streets. In those days, it was known as the Carl N. Buchman Foot Comfort Shop.
During World War II, Carl Buchman made the decision to no longer carry children’s shoes because rationing tickets meant the store could acquire only so much footwear. “We couldn’t keep women’s shoes stocked,” Bill Buchman said.
Then there was the time Buchman traveled to Akron to make a $10,000 bulk purchase, which stood out in his mind.
The store used to order directly from factories in Ohio. If that wasn’t an option, Buchman would meet with sales representatives in places such as Akron to make the purchase.
All that’s left now is to sell the remaining stock, about 1,000 pairs of shoes. The store is offering 70 percent off all merchandise until it closes.