When Charlie Rossbach was a teenager, his mother, Millie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s about when Rossbach started helping his father, Carl, run the family business: Rossbach Shoes.
At the time, Rossbach, now 78, still had thoughts of being a salesman, perhaps for a big distributor based in Boston. But when his mother died in 1961, Rossbach knew he was needed at home. Even when he attended Dutchess Community College to study retail management, he would return to Gloversville on the weekends to help his father with the store and other tasks.
“I grew up awful quick,” Rossbach said. “I had to do a lot of stuff at home. I was cleaning, I was cooking. I was doing all the stuff — keeping the house up for my father.”
Rossbach’s decision to help the store was becoming the continuation of a family story. His father, Carl, chose to leave the glove industry to take over the shoe store in 1945, when Rossbach’s grandfather, Christian, died of cancer.
“Probably to keep the legacy going,” Rossbach said. “I really don’t know. I never asked him that question. But he took it over all those years. And then in ’59 or ’60 is when I started to step in.”
This week, the store celebrated its 100th anniversary. In that time, Rossbach Shoes has passed through three generations, weathering the Great Depression, the fall of Gloversville’s leather and tanning industries, the rise of e-commerce and the scourge of COVID-19.
Started on Feb. 1, 1922, Rossbach Shoes was Christian Rossbach’s venture. Rossbach’s grandfather opened the business in the 1870s building on West Fulton Street after he kept getting passed up for promotions as an insurance salesman, Rossbach said.
Though the inventory of a few thousand pairs of shoes standing in messy stacks of boxes – which Rossbach says he has catalogued in his memory – has shifted from dress shoes to colorful sneakers over the years, the customer service remains.
“Always be kind to people,” Rossbach said. That’s what has served him well during the more than 60 years he’s been working in the store, where he estimates he spends about 55 hours per week. With the help of his late-wife Rosemarie’s teaching income, the store was enough to help support the family of five. The shop is open every day except Sunday, and draws customers from throughout the region, Rossbach said.
It also draws local customers like Bill Rowback, a 56-year-old Gloversville resident. Rowback happens to be the Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department Chief, where Rossbach is a member. So Rowback added perspective on Rossbach’s character.
“He’s very genuine. He is a very humble man. He’s that person in the business and outside the business,” Rowback said. “And he’s been a member [with Pleasant Square VFD] for over 45 years. It shows a true testament to a local business man giving back to the community, not just by working and selling his wares, but he also gives back to the community with his service.”
Joe Gillis has been running Dunday’s Clothing Store – which he said opened in 1949 – for more than four decades. He considers Rossbach a mentor, and he admires his commitment.
“Could you imagine going to a store 6 days a week for more than 50 years in a row? It takes a lot of dedication to his craft,” Gillis said.
Gillis said local stores like Rossbach Shoes give downtown Gloversville its charm.
“It gives you a hometown atmosphere. When you go into a store and you know the store owner, and he calls you by name, it gives you a sense of community,” Gillis said. “Those sound like corny little things, but the customers who do support downtown, that’s how they feel.”
Rossbach took over sole proprietorship of the business in January of 1988, and he still remembers the trepidation he felt during the first few days working without his father.
“I was scared because I was by myself,” he said. “I didn’t have him to kind of guide me.”
Rossbach and his father had shared a lot of time in the store, never really talking about anything in particular but focusing their attention on the tasks – ordering shoes, tidying the store and attending to customers.
“He was kind of strict,” Rossbach said of his father. “You couldn’t waver. He had a set way about what he wanted to do. But we always got along well.”
Rossbach supposes that he and his father processed their grief of losing Rossbach’s mother by working at the store, but they never said anything about it explicitly.
Still, that’s probably why when Rossbach’s wife of more than 50 years became ill with renal disease last year, Rossbach kept working.
Rosemarie’s sickness turned bad quickly. And when she died on Memorial Day in 2021, Rossbach remembers his son asking if he planned to work the next day.
“I went to work, and it helped me,” Rossbach said. “It kept my mind in this, and I had people coming in and asking me how I was, and that helped. That helped out an awful lot.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.