Tag Archives: Liberty Army & Navy

“Taps” For Liberty Army & Navy

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.

Liberty Army & Navy owner Eve Rothbard, in her well-stocked store.

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.

The interior of Liberty Army & Navy: familiar to generations of Westporters.

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.”

Friday Flashback #53

In 1979 2009 — as her 30th Staples High School reunion neared — Peggy Lehn made this collage:

Now — 8 years later — she dug it out of her garage, and sent it along.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. If you were in Westport then: How many of these places and things do you remember? Westport Pizzeria and Liberty Army Navy seem to be the only 2 stores still around.

If you were not here: What are you most curious about? I’m guessing the Minnybuses — and the bizarrely named S&M Pizza. (Trust me, nothing crazy went on there.)

Click “Comments” below to share memories — or ask questions.

Weekend Routine That Is Anything But

We all have weekends routines — the rituals we perform every Saturday or Sunday. We don’t think about them; we just do them. But they define us — and our town — more than we realize.

Alert “06880” reader Carter Wiseman shares his:

Most Saturday mornings, I visit People’s Bank on the Post Road at North Compo. Victoria and Nikki know my name. They don’t ask if I need my balance, because I view it online.

Trader Joe's - 1Next, I head across the street to Trader Joe’s. I check out avocados and more with Trude, whose bow-hunting father (I learned) pulled out her tooth by attaching it to an arrow.

From there it’s on to Westport Hardware. Dave once advised me on a cheap snake, so I did not have to call an $80-an-hour plumber to clear a bathroom drain.

I end my Saturday morning with a trip up the Post Road, to Liberty Army & Navy. I chat with Eve, the owner, who took over the store from her brother Bob (with whom I bonded over tales of the Viet Nam era. I had a cushy intelligence job with the Army in Germany; Bob was in the Air Force at Khe Sanh.)

My final stop is next door, at Castle Wines. I always look forward to seeing Kathleen, who has an advanced degree in oenology but nevertheless recommends an inexpensive Malbec.

What’s your weekend routine? Where do you go, who do you see, and why do you like it? Click “Comments” to share!

Celebrating 60 Years Of Liberty

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.

blog - Liberty Army NavySixty 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.”