Iconic Western boot, apparel store to close after 65 years in Flagstaff

Gary Anderson said he has little choice but to close the Flagstaff Western-wear business his father started 65 years ago, because people are buying fewer Western shirts, jeans, belt buckles and boots from mom-and-pop shops. Enlarge photo

JAKE BACON/Arizona Daily Sun

Gary Anderson said he has little choice but to close the Flagstaff Western-wear business his father started 65 years ago, because people are buying fewer Western shirts, jeans, belt buckles and boots from mom-and-pop shops.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – A downtown Flagstaff landmark will close at the end of the month, another casualty in the war between small, family-owned businesses and web-based national wholesalers.

Gary Anderson, owner of Gene’s Western Wear and Shoe Hospital, said he has little choice but to close the downtown business his father started 65 years ago.

Sales of Western shirts, jeans, belt buckles and, of course, boots have declined over the years, Anderson said, as shoppers turn to cheaper alternatives from big-box stores and online retailers.

“The way people shop has changed,” he said. “They aren’t expecting customer service anymore.”

Customers, he said, have changed their habits, with a generation of real-life cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers throwing out a pair of boots rather than paying to have them resoled.

Boots that used to last for decades, he said, now are considered disposable.

When his shoemaker retired a few years ago, Anderson chose not to hire someone. Instead, his son began repairing shoes on the side out of his home.

On a quiet afternoon, Anderson stands alone in the shop, pointing to telltale signs of the store’s expansion on Leroux Street during the last few decades.

“It started from this beam here all the way to over here,” Anderson said while pointing from beam to beam, trying to explain how his father shoehorned in a retail shop and a place for boot repairs in a few hundred square feet.

A small sign hanging outside the Anderson Building commemorates the final addition to the store in 1994.

The first location for the business was on South San Francisco Street, then on the corner of Aspen Avenue and Beaver Street, and finally its current home on Leroux Street.

How Gene’s Western Wear and Shoe Hospital got its start back in the late 1940s is based on tragedy – not for the Anderson family, but for another shoemaker.

Anderson says his father had read in Phoenix how Flagstaff’s only shoemaker had been arrested after shooting someone.

“So he came up to Flagstaff,” Anderson said. “Borrowed some money from my granddad and his equipment and opened up the store.”

His uncle, Raymond Anderson, taught his father – who had just married his high school sweetheart – the tricks of the trade, he said.

Gary took over the business in 1998, a full 50 years after his father started Gene’s Shoe Hospital in Flagstaff.

His father also helped his brothers open stores in Apache Junction and Cottonwood, Ariz.

After more than three decades of him personally outfitting locals for just about any occasion, Anderson isn’t ready hang up his spurs just yet.

He doesn’t want to retire, but he is looking forward to a long vacation.

“I am going to take a little time off,” he says, smiling.

The downtown institution will close its doors March 31.