COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–The lines of customers outside Easton Shoes the past few days won’t save the retailer, but they are an affirmation that the family-owned shop made its mark over its decades in business.
Owners Lenny and Marcia Comeras knew the end was coming to that 67-year-old business, but Covid-19 brought it sooner than expected.
“We planned to do this for a few more years,” Lenny Comeras said. “We wanted to have a smoother transition.”
The store at 1880 Henderson Road will close for good by October or November. In addition to needing to sell through its own inventory, the store still is taking one last round of special orders for customers in the next few months.
“Covid is far from over,” Marcia Comeras said. “We don’t want to wait this out another year. We want to go out on a high note.”
Looking at the first few days since they announced the closing, Easton Shoes is going to do just that. A dozen customers waited patiently outside the busy shop Monday afternoon. Another line formed Tuesday morning prior to opening.
It’s a testament to Easton Shoes’ dedicated customer base that gravitated toward the European manufacturers favored by the shop. Even if a brand was available elsewhere, Lenny Comeras said their store would focus on styles that were harder to find. They traveled throughout Europe and South America on buying expeditions, searching for new product to bring to Central Ohio.
“We bought from the European collections, not the U.S.,” Marcia Comeras said. “We wanted to be different. That’s what set us apart.”
Lenny Comeras’ father Reuben Comeras and business partner Bill Easton opened Easton Shoes in 1954.
“The name sounded better than Comeras Shoes,” he joked, though he added that had they known Easton Town Center was coming 45 years later they might have reconsidered, given the confusion from having another Easton across town has caused in the past 20 years.
The brand started at Graceland in Clintonville and at one point had stores at Kingsdale in Upper Arlington, in Delaware, and at the Great Western and Great Southern shopping centers.
Lenny Comeras, a lawyer by trade, joined the family business in 1978 and opened a store in Bexley. Marcia Comeras, his wife, joined 27 years ago.
The business was consolidated into one large store on Bethel Road in in 1989. The shop moved to its current Henderson Road space 16 years ago.
“It’s very, very sad,” Lenny Comeras said of the decision to close. “It’s probably time, but we still feel young and act young.”
While they’ve traveled plenty for business over the years, the couple now plans to travel for fun, in addition to spending time with their grandchildren and, for Lenny Comeras, playing tennis as much as possible.
“We’ll go where ever our heart takes us,” he said.
The Comerases did not initially think the pandemic would lead to closing the store. Though the business was closed for almost three months last year with no income, they refreshed the store look in that downtime and reopened.
Customers returned, but two other key components did not: employees and several suppliers.
Lenny Comeras said they weren’t able to lure previous workers back and have struggled to bring in new employees, which has been a common problem for retailers and restaurants.
Vendors proved to be a greater problem. Some, like Israel-based Beautifeel and Arcopedico, closed or are having trouble shipping to the U.S. Others shifted efforts to their own direct-to-consumer operations rather than retailers. New Balance quit supplying small shops, while Birkenstock, one of Easton Shoes most popular sellers, isn’t taking new orders until next year.
The manufacturers that have remained reliable — SAS, Finn and Hartjes to name a few — aren’t enough to sustain the business.
But the Comerases are going to make the most of their last few weeks.
“We’re still going to sell a lot until we close,” Lenny Comeras said. “We have a backlog of special orders that’s going to keep us very, very busy. We’ve told our customers to come in and stock up.”
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