Survival of the fittest

Hess Shoes: Storied legacy no longer counts for much in Baltimore's retailing marketplace.

November 07, 1999

HESS SHOES sold footwear to Baltimoreans for 127 years, but in a fast-paced world where immediacy and low-cost take precedence, a storied legacy means little.

Baltimore and Washington residents might best remember Hess' cozy main street-style stores and friendly sales clerks. But in recent years, the company had to abandon its street-front locations for shopping malls, where it had to to compete with department store behemoths and large national athletic shoe retailers like Footlocker.

The growing popularity of catalog shopping and the explosion of Internet commerce added insult to injury.

After years of just getting by, Gortz Beteiligungsgesellschaft MBH -- the German company that bought out the local owners in 1978 -- will now call it quits.

Hess Shoes joins the pantheon of other venerable Baltimore retailers -- Brager-Gutman, Hochschild Kohn, Hutzler Bros., Stewart's -- that are now defunct.

While we cherish the memories of shopping in these establishments and lament their demise, we chose to spend our dollars elsewhere -- proving yet again that the marketplace is not a very sympathetic or nostalgic mechanism.

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