Written by Mary Ellen Porrazzo Friday, 10 December 2010 00:00
A new year will dawn in Hicksville without one of its most beloved residents. In the final days of its goodbye, after 71 years of distinguished retailing and service to the community, Goldman Bros. becomes a casualty of the changing times, a challenging business climate and an uncertain economy.
“The small independent store is a dying art,” said Win Goldman in an interview last Sunday downstairs in the store founded by his grandfather Morris, an auctioneer from the Bronx. Win’s cheerful demeanor grew serious as he added, “The whole face of retailing has changed.”
The story of Goldman’s is the story of Hicksville. When his grandfather opened a men’s and boy’s shop at 107 Broadway; “a haberdashery, as it was called then,” Win said; Broadway was a two-lane road and potato fields locally and farming in general composed the Long Island landscape. Living with his wife (Win’s grandmother) and two sons on Broadway near his small store, Win’s grandfather watched his business grow as Hicksville and the nation came of age. When he died in 1950, he left a lively store to his sons – Win’s uncle, Irwin and Win’s father, Howard – both Hicksville High School and Columbia University graduates. Win’s uncle is now deceased and his father, 83, is retired.
Those early years clearly are etched in Win’s mind as his smile gives way to a gentle laugh with the memory of his grandmother at the cash register, a standard Sweda, “the register of the day,” displaying her work ethic and pride in the family business.
In 1951 Goldman’s moved to 192 Broadway where it underwent several renovations to meet the growing demands of a growing Hicksville population. 1967 saw the store’s final move to its present location, across the street at the corner of Broadway and East Carl Street, to a three-story building with additional office space.
By this time Broadway had been widened to its current four lanes, the Long Island Rail Road tracks had been elevated, Hicksville bustled with retail activity and Goldman’s was doing a brisk business in clothing and shoes for uniformed workers and athletic gear.
Little by little the Technological Revolution was taking hold, although it wasn’t known by that name then. What was known was that things were changing and changing rapidly. Win recalled the arrival first of calculators and then computers by the end of the ’70s and early ’80s. Back in a Goldman’s storeroom still sits an old typewriter desk – a manual Smith Corona ready to work its way through invoices and letters if one opens the desktop, reaches down, and then pulls up to reveal it – a “relic” to the not-so-distant past for this computer generation, but a once dependable device to a business serving a thriving community.
Goldman’s made the necessary modifications to serve the changing times, while never abandoning its caring customer service, which distinguished it from the beginning. Its “If we don’t have it, we can get it” refrain answered the call for hard to find items even as malls began to sprout up seemingly everywhere, along with brand name specialty stores attracting trend-seeking customers. At the same time, Internet shopping began to take hold, first as a novelty then as routine. Simply put, life grew more complex and offered a bargain-seeking consumer more choices. Competition threatened and sometimes doomed the mom and pop stores which once dominated the retail scene. In addition, the economy posed challenges. Recessions came and went. Goldman’s held on. But supplying uniforms, customized sporting equipment, and sweatshirts and apparel to the weekend athlete, became challenging.
Win recalled one recent customer, a man he said “was about 65,” who came in after the announcement to close, saying he “had been coming to Goldman’s a long time,” telling Win he “honestly understood the changes.” It was clear that customer service was taking second place to cost cutting for people looking to save here and there in these tough times.
“I feel in general there has been saturation of all the retailing industries. Everyone is taking away from everyone else. This time there are just too many stores.”
Goldman shared a comment he said he heard from more than one salesman over the years. “This won’t affect you,” he was told in reference to a mall, even one as far away from Hicksville as the Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead.
“Wrong,” Win said. “Everything affects everybody. People make a day’s outing out of shopping and see something in a Reebok or Nike store and buy two. Then when the next year comes they don’t need that pair of sneakers they would have bought at Goldman’s.”
Goldman’s sales force has a reputation for being exemplary. Customers purchasing a pair of shoes can expect to have their feet measured, for instance, a custom largely absent from the present marketplace. Or a salesperson will offer and not wait to be asked, if a customer’s need is not met. To the last day.
Asked to name the qualities he looks for in an employee, Win said one should be “personable, knowledgeable and dependable.” Add one more trait that he did not mention – loyal. Longevity defines loyalty at Goldman’s. Among the approximately 30 staffers, Win said there is a 38-year employee, and others who have been there 30, 25, 20 and 15 years. His sister, Anise, has been at the store more than 20 years.
Win, a graduate of Hicksville High School, began running the store with his father in 1978 after graduating from the University of Rochester with a major in economics. His wife, Liz, also worked at the store, where they met before she went on to a distinguished retailing career that included Barney’s and Bloomingdales. Married for 28 years, they have a son and a daughter.
Since the decision to close was announced, many devoted customers have written. One man said, “Say it ain’t so. Say it ain’t so.” He told of leaving his wallet behind while shopping one Veteran’s Day and it being saved for him and how the store always helped him with a challenging shoe size. Another letter-writer, a woman and former employee, said she is “devastated” and added she will always cherish her memories which include the love and warmth accorded her upon the death of her father. Another woman praised the Goldman family for hiring local students and accommodating their schedules. This woman, another former employee, met her husband at the store when they were both Hicksville High School students and they have now been married 30 years and still reside here.
Memories abound. There is another woman whose late mother would give her money each Christmas in an envelope she labeled “Goldman’s.” The money was to be spent on running shoes but they were not to be worn until spring around Easter time when the daughter would try to be the runner she dreamed to be. The tradition has continued since her mother’s death in her honor.
What is next for Win Goldman? “I don’t know,” he replied. Then he smiled. “At 54,” he said, “I think I have a few good years left.” His next venture he hopes will have a “lower stress level.” For now he is looking to continue “in some fashion the customized uniform business for industries and organizations.”
When Bob Dylan wrote, The Times They Are a-Changin back in the ’60s, he could well have been writing about Hicksville now. Goldman’s departure removes one more link to a past that is gone, a present defined by challenge and a future that is uncertain. But what is certain is the lasting legacy of excellence left by Goldman’s, and its sky-high standards for anyone seeking inspiration in business and in life.