In 1950 Hank and Julie Mayer opened an Army & Navy store on Bridgeport’s East Side. Just 5 years after the end of World War II, there was quite a market for surplus military equipment.
Sixty years later, the Mayers’ daughters — Eve Rothbard and Iris Rose — own and operate their parents’ successor, Liberty Army & Navy in Westport and Norwalk. Westport might not be considered fertile ground for such an enterprise. But Liberty Army & Navy has done something few retailers think about, let alone pull off. They’ve changed with the times, while never straying far from their roots.
The Mayers’ 1st Westport location, on the Post Road across from the Shell station, was in a small strip mall next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken (today it’s Top Drawer).
Back then — 1972 — “people wore a lot of jeans,” Eve recalls. “We were a basic, good-value store, with a focus on customer service.”
It was a winning formula. Seven years later the store moved to larger quarters: its present site a few hundred yards west. Hank retired in 1992, and Eve and Iris took over.
Today, they say, jeans are back. Levi’s are huge, thanks to their tapered look.
At the same time, Eve says, “We’ve evolved. We’ve got upscale brands: Under Armour, Smartwool, Teva and Jockey.”
Over the years, Builders Beyond Borders became a big customers. Twice a year hundreds of teenagers head to Liberty Army & Navy for clothes, hiking boots and work gloves, before community service in Central and South America.
Liberty Army & Navy also provides uniforms and embroidery to utility companies, landscapers and other businesses.
But the core of the store is the same as always: good products at good value.
Modern technology, like the internet, has not hurt them, Eve says. “People want to get their hands on a product. They come here, and they really see what they’re getting.”
As Westport has changed, though, customers have shifted.
“Westport is younger,” Eve notes. “We always had a base of older people, because they understood the ‘Army Navy’ concept. Now it’s a very small part.”
“Westporters know we’re not just camouflage,” Iris says. “We carry name brands.”
The owners and their staff — many of whom have worked there for years — now see 3rd-generation customers. Others, who moved away, return when they can. One couple stops in twice a year, on trips between their homes in Florida and Cape Cod. They say Liberty Army & Navy is the only place to buy jeans.
Another customer recently told Eve and Iris: “Thank god you’re still here.”
“We’re so grateful to our loyal customers, who have supported us throughout the years,” Iris says. “And we’re always working on getting new ones.”