Local Store’s End Reduces Chain To Single Norwich Site
By LIBBY CUDMORE
ONEONTA – As the news that McLaughlin’s on Main Street was closing, shoppers poured in to peruse sales and say hail and farewell to Scott and Anna, who have run the downtown staple since 2016.
“We’re not going that much further (away), so please, stop on by,” Scott McLaughlin, president of the Norwich-based department store, told a customer as the closing sale reached a high pitch Friday, March 8.
Even veteran salesman Gordon Breslin, who fitted generations of Oneontans with new shoes since the days of Zimm’s, helped out.
Though retired, he was happy to assist a man looking for boots, ducking into the back room to get the right size while Scott and wife Anna worked the floor.
“We know our customers by first name,” said Anna. “We catch up on what’s going on in their lives. “People run into each other here that they haven’t seen for 10 years; kids come home from college and see friends.”
But now, in April, McLaughlin’s will shut its doors, reduced from a peak of eight to its lonely Norwich flagship, the last in a family business that stretched across Central New York and back
“There had been a noticeable difference in foot traffic,”
explained Scott, whose father and grandfather opened the first McLaughlin’s in Waterville. “And we’re in competition with the Internet.”
“It’s hard to close,” added Anna; the two met in 1987 when she was working at the Norwich store. “It was a difficult decision, and it will be a sad day.”
When Zimm’s Shoe Store closed in 2003, Jeff House, then City Hall’s housing rehabilitation specialist, approached the McLaughlins and asked if they would be interested in once again expanding their empire.
“Oneonta welcomed us with open arms,” said Anna. “It’s a great town, and there are great things happening.”
Following the success of the shoe store, in 2005 they opened a clothing store, first in Clinton Plaza, then in the former Alpine Ski Hut, then in the former Sport Tech.
“We kept moving closer and closer to the shoes,” he said. “We needed a bigger location.”
They were active participants in downtown, holding sidewalk sales during the Grand & Glorious Garage
Sale and OH-Fest. “When downtown hosted an event, we were always successful,” she said.
The family got into he business when Scott’s father Spencer was struck with polio at age 18, ruining his plans to play football in college. “He recovered, but he lost the use of one arm,” the son said. “His dad Clifford, who owned an A&P, bought a five & dime for him to run.”
Spencer and Clifford Jr., Scott’s uncle, brought retail clothing to the operation, and bought a new building to expand their stores. Other family members bought in, and soon, there were McLaughlin’s stores in Hamilton, Oneida, Rome, Little Falls and Herkimer.
They opened the Norwich store in an old Montgomery Ward in 1975, and in the late ’80s, Scott and his brother, Mark, as well Clifford Jr.’s children, each took over the remaining four stores, with Scott taking Norwich and Mark taking Skaneateles.
The Skaneateles store closed in 2007.
Scott and Anna’s kids, Megan, Casey and Michael, grew up in the Norwich store and help out in the Oneonta shop, just as their father had done in Waterville.
But running a smaller store is difficult, said Scott, and their kids weren’t interested in going into clothing retail.
“We see it as combining two locations,” said Anna. “We’ll be able to stock more merchandise in Norwich.”
The store has no closing date at the moment, but Scott has said they plan to depart in April.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Breslin. “It’s sad. I don’t know what’s happening downtown, but it’s just not the same.”