Woog’s World / Liberty Army & Navy is a throwback
In a town filled with stores selling artisanal honey, grass-fed beef and stand-up paddleboards, Liberty Army & Navy is a throwback.
Occupying half of the most average-looking strip mall imaginable — on the eastern edge of Westport, far from downtown — the store sells some of life’s basics: blue jeans, underwear, socks. It’s also the place for solid all-weather boots, flannel shirts and camping gear. Plus Boy Scout uniforms and camouflage.
It’s not the trendiest shop around. But for nearly half a century, a steady stream of customers has found their way there. Moms whose kids are heading to summer camp mingle with lawn guys needing new work gloves, and teenagers trying to look tough in a “US Marine” t-shirt. It’s the kind of place most people never think about, but every town needs.
If you’re looking for any of the many things Liberty Army & Navy sells though, you better hurry. The store — which traces its roots to Bridgeport in 1950, came to Westport around 1970, then moved a couple hundred yards to its present spot from smaller digs a few years later — is closing at the end of May.
This is not one of those cases where greedy, out-of-state landlords squeeze tenants for every last dime. Nor is it an instance where the owner fails to adapt to a changing marketplace, or gets hammered by online commerce.
The reason is simple. After a lifetime in retail — as a child, she worked in her father’s Bridgeport Army & Navy store — owner Eve Rothbard is retiring.
Customers are mourning the imminent loss. They thank her for all she’s done (and ask plaintively where else they can find Levis). But they understand her decision. To everything there is a season. And after helping so many folks through so many seasons, it’s now time for Eve to relax and enjoy life.
There was a time when Westport was filled with stores like Liberty Army & Navy. Nothing about them was fancy: not their exteriors, their interiors, or their names. They were just there, unremarkable as the air, yet solid as rocks.
Liberty was not even the only Army/Navy store. Another one, called B&G, sat in another unremarkable storefront across the Post Road from the former post office. (Today it’s Design Within Reach, and if that doesn’t tell you something about old and new Westport, I don’t know what does.)
I grew up not far from where Liberty Army & Navy is, so I remember many of those no-frills stores. For back-to-school clothes, my mother took me to Richard’s. It was a boys store in Westfair Shopping Center — a plaza that I’m sure looked exciting when built in the 1950s, but whose main feature today is diagonal take-your-life-in-your-hands parking just inches away from Post Road traffic.
You could get anything you’d want at Richards, provided it was chino pants or a basic shirt (plus of course underwear and socks). But that was fine. In elementary and junior high — Richard’s’ target market — we wore clothes not to show off labels, but in order not to be naked.
A few doors down from Richard’s was Westfair Pharmacy (see what I mean about un-fancy names?). Like its clothing counterparts, this was where everyone in the area went for “stuff”: toothpaste, Band-Aids, razor blades. There were a few choices, not the thousands we face nowadays no matter what we’re buying. Somehow, we managed.
The pharmacist filled prescriptions promptly (and delivered, in a pinch). There was also a counter that served food — basic hamburgers and Cokes. It wasn’t much, but it worked. Most importantly, it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t.
Nor did Mac’s. That was the butcher shop at another un-fancy shopping “plaza,” the one on the corner of Post Road and North Maple. “Mac” McCarthy sold meat. Nearly every mother in the neighborhood went in there nearly every day. His food was good. His prices were fair. He gave free bologna slices to kids (and plenty of attention to the ladies). His Irish brogue was classic.
Mac’s and Richard’s are long gone. So is Westfair Pharmacy. Today you can buy much higher quality meat at a couple of different specialty shops. The choices for boys’ clothes are boundless (and often expensive). Our pharmacy choices have exploded (as have our healthcare costs).
Soon, Liberty Army & Navy will join those places on the long list of nostalgia-inducing, shuttered shops. Mothers will have one less place to buy sleeping bags for their camp-bound kids. Construction workers with wet feet will have one less place to buy dry socks.
And all of us will wonder where we will find our next pair of Levis.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.