Historic shoe store shuts down

  • A view of the Peterborough Shoe Store on 1976 Main Street. —Photo courtesy Monadnock Center for History and Culture

  • Robert Borsari, the original owner of the Peterborough Shoe Store, outside his shop in 1976. Photo courtesy Monadnock Center for History and Culture

  • Peterborough Shoe Store will close at the end of this year, after more than 60 years in downtown Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Peterborough Shoe Store will close at the end of this year, after more than 60 years in downtown Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 9:56AM

Peterborough Shoe Store has been a staple of the Peterborough downtown since 1958. But today, large signs in the storefront proclaim the news: Going out of business.

The store’s current owner, Ira Conrad of Peterborough, who purchased the store in 2008 with his wife, Diana Conrad, said the store has been in a slow, steady decline since he first purchased it. 

“It was more or less a decision based on the fact that the store wasn’t making enough money to keep it open,” said Conrad. “Sales have declined year to year.”

From 2015 to 2016, the store had a flat run, said Conrad, and he hoped that things had started to stabilize, or at least they wouldn’t get any worse.

“Then in the first quarter of 2017, sales fell off a cliff. I thought, ‘Ah-hah. It’s time to go.’”

While the Conrads have owned the store since 2008, the store has been in that location since 1970 – and in existence even longer, having been started by Robert H. Borsari in 1958. From 1958 to 1970, the store was located on the first floor of what is now the Mariposa Museum. It replaced Collier's Shoe Store, which was in the same location from 1941-1958.

The store has changed ownership multiple times since Borsari’s ownership. In 2008, Conrad had just sold Maggie’s Market and was looking for another retail opportunity. At that time, the shoe store was owned by Susan and Jim Therriault, and a broker approached Conrad to see if he was interested.

The business doesn’t seem to be generating enough profit to continue under a new ownership, said Conrad, so after more than 60 years, it’ll be closed down for good.

Conrad said he’ll likely devote more time to his law practice, rather than looking for another business opportunity. 

“I will not miss being in retail,” he said. “There are some people you get to be friendly with, so I’ll miss those good people, but other than that, I would say working in retail is one of the hardest occupations out there.”

Conrad said he will keep the store open through the holiday season and close immediately after the Christmas holiday, with the last day being either Dec. 23 or Dec. 24. 

A historic location

“It’s a historic location and been there for years. It’s terrible to see someone go out of business,” said Sean Ryan, the executive director of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce. “It’s like you’re missing your front tooth. Everyone notices.”

Conrad said that he attributes his declining sales to an overall reduction of buying power in the region – in the past few years, as some big employers such as EMS have downsized, there are fewer local dollars coming back to the stores.

“Even with a strong movement of ‘buy local,’ a lot of locals don’t shop here,” said Conrad. “It’s a landmark, but unfortunately a lot of people are passing this landmark right by. It’s nice to be a monument, but that isn’t what pays the bills. Stores don’t survive on good will, they survive on money changing hands.”

But while there’s always work to be done on enhancing the existing downtown, said Ryan, Peterborough’s Main Street, Depot Street and Depot Square have been stable for the last few years. Other than the Peterborough Shoe Store, the only stores that have closed in the downtown were Sarah’s Hat Boxes and New England Everyday Goods, both of which moved to other locations. 

Peterborough’s population isn’t enough to sustain a retail store by itself, said Ryan – it requires a mix of clientele that could include tourists or visitors from as much as 50 miles away. The stores that have seen an increase in sales in the past few years – Vicuna Chocolates, Ava Marie Handmade Chocolates and Monadnock Oil and Vinegar for example – are faring better because they make for good “impulse buys” for tourists.

“But we’d be fooling ourselves if we just said, ‘We’re healthy, we don’t need any work,’” said Ryan. “In this day and age, you always have to work to keep it afloat.”

The Chamber has been involved with efforts such as trying to increase the marketing for downtown in anticipation of the stores being cut off from Route 101 by the upcoming closing of the Main Street bridge for repairs and applying for grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to increase the marketing during that time. The Chamber is also looking into making Peterborough’s downtown listed as a National American Main Street, and partnering with the Monadnock Buy Local.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.