The irony of Bob Jones Shoes making it through the tough times only to close its doors now that downtown Kansas City is coming back isn’t lost on Rocky Horowitz.
“We seen downtown go from bad to good to really good,” he said.
“Once the Sprint Center opened and things got all built up, we began seeing a lot of young people and downtown revitalizing. But my partner (Harry Bosley) is 73 and I’m 66. We’re retiring because of our ages.”
So on September 4, Bob Jones Shoes, a fixture at 1914 Grand Blvd. for almost 60 years, plans to begin a “retirement” sale that could last up to 90 days, depending on how long its bountiful stock of men’s and women’s shoes last.
The regional shoe-shopping destination, which survived the downtown retail meltdown that claimed all its big department stores and most other smaller shops in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, is going out of business.
The store wasn’t always about shoes.
When partners Bob Jones and Rocky’s father Ernest opened the business in 1960, they sold everything from mink coats to motor oil. Horowitz pulled out an old newspaper clipping about the business that showed a potpourri of merchandise piled high on tables.
“We were the the original discount store and sold all kinds of stuff,” Horowitz said. “In 1960, downtown was still good. Then it dried out. It was a ghost town.”
In the early 1980s, the then-young college graduate launched a different course for the business.
“I had friends in the shoe business and I decided to grow it,” Horowitz said. “We got rid of the other products and I would go to Europe two, three, four times a year to buy shoes.”
His eye for fashionable shoes at bargain prices was the formula for success. It helped too, to have a witty approach to advertising his wares. Bob Jones Shoes billboards often brought a smile to commuters stuck in traffic on I-35.
And business came from all over, not just metropolitan Kansas City, but visitors from surrounding states and beyond.
So why wouldn’t someone want to buy such a thriving business with such great name recognition?
“I had a few offers, but they all wanted me to be involved as a buyer and that wasn’t my plan,” Horowitz said. “I also own the building and don’t want to be a landlord.”
At this point, there’s no new owners or other plans in the works. There’s still a month or more of selling shoes to attend to.
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.