One of Westport’s oldest and most beloved businesses is closing.
This time, it’s not because the rent is too damn high.
Liberty Army & Navy will sell its last jeans, Boy Scout uniform and camping gear at the end of May. It’s been here since the early 1970s.
Now it’s time for Eve Rothbard — the longtime owner, who took over from her father — to retire.
She carried on a long Army & Navy legacy. Her parents, Hank and Julie Mayer, started the store on Bridgeport’s East Main Street in 1950.
Twenty years later Hank added a Westport location: the small shopping plaza near North Maple Avenue, where Layla’s Falafel is now. (Its neighbor then was Kentucky Fried Chicken.)
The store quickly outgrew its space — even after a renovation. Mayer bought a vacant lot a couple of hundred yards west, and built a new Army & Navy.
His 3rd store was in Stratford. After he closed his Bridgeport location, he opened in Norwalk.
Eve had begun working as a kid in Bridgeport. She and her sister Iris came to Westport in the early ’70s. When Iris retired, Eve became sole owner.
For 20 years, manager Jennifer Talapa has been by her side.
And for nearly 50 years, Eve says, the formula has been the same. She knows her customers by name. She provides great service. Prices are fair. “Quality and service equal satisfaction,” she says.
Some things have changed, of course. Online commerce has siphoned off some customers.
There’s less surplus goods, more well-known brands like Under Armour and Merrell.
Closing is “bittersweet, but exciting,” Eve says. “It’s a new chapter in my life. This is just the right time.”
She has no definite plans, beyond relaxing. And not getting up early to make 7:30 a.m. deliveries.
Loyal customers were stunned by the closing news. But, says Eve, they’re understanding.
“People are happy to see where I am in life. Still, there’s a lot of concern about where they’ll find certain items. Everyone wonders where they’ll buy Levis.”
Eve knows there are few options — particularly for men working in Westport. “When their feet get cold or wet, they come right here,” she says proudly.
She wants her customers — and her many other accounts, like construction companies, utilities and Boy Scouts — to know how grateful she is for their many years of support.
That was her final message.
But as I walked out the door, a man walked in.
“Thank you for being here,” he said.
Decades’ worth of other customers add, “Amen.”