While small businesses nationwide struggle to keep their heads above water and ride out turbulent economic times, Liberty Army and Navy recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Also, withstanding fickle trends in fashion, the family-owned retailer has managed to hold onto its stellar reputation as the go-to place for military clothing and surplus, camping gear and cold weather clothing and accessories. And, of course, as in its beginning, Liberty Army and Navy continues to carry Levi jeans, a wardrobe staple for many in the community.
Owners and sisters Eve Rothbard and Iris Rose are quick to point out, though, that over the years, Liberty Army and Navy has integrated modern clothing styles -- such as Levi's 511 "skinny" jeans and SmartWool socks, among other increasingly popular brands.
"Basically, we've kept our name but we've changed our business," said Rose.
Rothbard agreed. "We've been able to stay true to our roots and yet many people describe us as an upscale Army and Navy store."
Lately, commuters traveling from Fairfield County to New York could be seen sporting stylish oilskin jackets, made by Outback. The sisters explain that although this product was originally meant to be worn by people working outdoors, local professionals appreciate its waterproof benefit.
"It can be purchased as a short or long coat," Rothbard noted.
Heavy, insulated coats and jackets, thermal wear, fleece wear and accessories for extreme winter conditions are also a mainstay of the store's inventory, too. Customers have come to rely on the store for providing basic attire manufactured by top brands, including Carhartt, Timberland and Wolverine.
In fact, catering to their customers' needs has undoubtedly contributed to Liberty Army and Navy's longevity.
Founded by their parents, Hank and Julie Meyer, Rothbard and Rose continue the family tradition of providing special orders for whatever products they do not have in stock. The store carries big and tall sizes; however, if a customer request a size that is not readily available, Liberty Army and Navy will happily order it for them.
"Many of our customers have been with us for a long time. We are actually on the third generation of families coming into the store," Rose said, proudly.
Again, following their parents' example of reaching out to the community, the sisters also work with local organizations and schools. Every year they help to outfit those traveling with the Builders Beyond Borders service agency. Local scouting groups also find what they need in the way of clothing and camping supplies at Liberty Army and Navy.
"We also work one on one with individuals who are traveling," Rose noted. "We've gotten very involved in rainwear and will order whatever they need to make their trip comfortable."
Their customers are loyal and, even when they move out of state, continue to shop at Liberty Army and Navy.
Rothbard and Rose told the tale of one couple who moved from their Westport home to Cape Cod. "Every year, as they drive from Cape Cod to their home in Florida, they stop off in Westport to shop," said Rothbard. "This year, when her husband was in the dressing room, the wife told me that he won't buy his Levi jeans anywhere else."
Rothbard believes that the store may, in fact, be one of Levi Strauss' "oldest accounts" in the area.
The Meyers family first opened an Army and Navy store in 1950 in Bridgeport's East End section.
The sisters said the store closed, however, in the late 1950s in part because of a shaky economic climate and also due to changing demographics in the area.
"When business got slow, though, our father loaded up the trunk of his car with merchandise and went down the road to sell his clothing and shoes at gas stations and local companies," Rothbard explained.
Bringing his goods to the customer proved to be successful. In fact, this was the beginning of Liberty Army and Navy's foray into establishing a commercial market, which today is the backbone of the business
A Westport store was opened in the early 1970s. In 1984, a Norwalk site on Connecticut Avenue near the Darien border was also established.
Growing up in the retail business, Rose said that "we've always worked here." However, along with her husband, Bob Rose, the two sisters formally took the reins of Liberty's daily operation in 1992.
Now retired, their parents divide their time living in residences in Connecticut and Florida. "We still look to them for advice, though," Rothbard noted, smiling.
Liberty Army and Navy is located at 1439 Post Road E., Westport, and at 565 Connecticut Ave., Norwalk. For more information, call the Westport location at (203) 255-6066.