FLAGSTAFF - A downtown Flagstaff landmark will close at the end of the month, another casualty in the war between small, family-owned businesses and Web-based national wholesalers.
Gary Anderson, owner of Gene's Western Wear and Shoe Hospital, said he has little choice but to close the downtown business his father started 65 years ago.
Sales of Western shirts, jeans, belt buckles and, of course, boots have declined over the years, Anderson said, as shoppers turn to cheaper alternatives from big-box stores and online retailers.
"The way people shop has changed," he said. "They aren't expecting customer service anymore."
Customers, he said, have changed their habits, with a generation of real-life cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers throwing out a pair of boots rather than paying to have them resoled.
Boots that used to last for decades are now considered disaposable, he said.
When his shoemaker retired a few years ago, Anderson chose not to hire someone. Instead, Anderson's son began repairing shoes on the side out of his home.
How Gene's Western Wear and Shoe Hospital got its start back in the late 1940s is based on tragedy - not for the Anderson family, but for another shoemaker.
He explained that his father had read in Phoenix how Flagstaff's only shoemaker had been arrested after shooting someone.
"So he came up to Flagstaff," Anderson remembered. "Borrowed some money from my granddad for his equipment and opened up the store."
His uncle, Raymond Anderson, taught his father - who had just married his high school sweetheart - the tricks of the trade, he said.
Gary took over the business in 1998, a full 50 years after his father started the Gene's Shoe Hospital in Flagstaff.
His father also helped his brothers open stores in Apache Junction and Cottonwood.
After more than three decades of personally outfitting locals for just about any occasion, Anderson isn't ready hang up his spurs just yet. He doesn't want to retire, but he is looking forward to a long vacation.
"I am going to take a little time off," he says, smiling.
The downtown institution will close its doors on March 31.