Emporium Western Store

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Profile appeared in our 28-1 Issue – April 2011

The Emporium Western Store, a familiar local landmark at 1031 19th Street in Bakersfield, California, was started over 100 years ago by an unknown family and has been serving valued customers ever since. The store was founded in 1909 as a true “emporium,” or general store, in the heart of downtown Bakersfield. In 1928, it was purchased by Isaac Rubin, grandfather of the current owners, and has remained in the family through three generations of ownership. In 1946, operation of the store passed to Rubin’s daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Al Goldwater. It was in 1948 that Al Goldwater began to convert the store into a specialty Western clothing store, one of the first of its kind in California, and changed the name from The Emporium to Emporium Western Store. This change was at the urging of a young lady named Juanita “Nita” Clark, who started working at the store as a teenager in 1943. She came from a rodeo family that had to travel around the state to find the types of cowboy boots and hats they both needed and wanted. Nita thought it was high time for a store to carry them in Bakersfield and kept after Al until he gave in. Al always credited Nita with the timely conversion to a Western store.

“Cowboy Al”

In 1952, at the time of the Tehachapi earthquake, which devastated so much of downtown Bakersfield, Emporium Western Store was located at 1219 19th Street and, like many downtown buildings, had a second story hotel located over it. The quake, unfortunately, knocked down the hotel and the second story was never rebuilt. During the rebuilding of the ground floor, the store took over the space next to it, which doubled the size of the business.

In April of 1984, the store relocated to its present block-long location. It was at the time of this move that Emporium Western Store acquired one of the few Big Red Boots distributed to key accounts across the country by Justin Boot Company, and, ever since, customers have been urged to “look for The Big Red Boot” when they come to the store.

Currently, Emporium Western Store is owned and operated by the Goldwaters’ two children, Stephen Goldwater and Carol Goldwater Durst, who carry on many of the family traditions at the store. In addition, Carol’s daughter, Stacy Durst Kupfer, and both of Stephen’s children, Justin and Erin Goldwater, worked at the store during their high school and college years, making a total of four generations that have been involved in the establishment.

The Rubins

Emporium Western Store is a well-known institution in Kern County, as well as in the Western-wear industry. In fact, the business has been recognized frequently by manufacturers and other organizations as being the best in the state and even the country. The store has won awards such as the “Wrangler PRCA Dealer of the Year,” the “Justin Boot Company Dealer of the Year,” and the “Resistol Hat Windy Ryan Award.” In 1995, Emporium Western Store was the first Western store outside the state of Texas to win “The Western Image Award Retailer of the Year” for a single location store. Locally, it has been voted the “Best Western Store in Kern County” every year since 1998 when The Bakersfield Californian started its annual readers poll.

There have also been many longtime employees over the years. For example, in 1965, a 6’ 1’’ young man named Alfonso “Al” Gonzales came to work for 5’ 2’’ Al Goldwater. Before long, people would telephone or come into the store and simply ask for “Al.” The reply was usually a question: “which one?” Soon the nicknames “Big Al” and “Little Al” were applied to the two gentlemen, and Big Al still works at Emporium Western Store today. Over the years, his specialty became hats and he is one of the most knowledgeable hat experts and hat shapers in the country. Big Al is such a staple in the hat industry that Larry Mahan Hats actually makes a hat named after him. Big Al always greets customers with that big smile of his and can’t wait to share one of his many stories with them.

In today’s world of chain stores and online shopping, Emporium Western Store continues to supply a personal touch and service that cannot be found elsewhere.

Emporium Western Store has also been proud to serve many celebrities over its 100 years in business. Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Brad Paisley might seem obvious, but Tony Curtis, Kiefer Sutherland, Jack Palance, and Chuck Connors are others who were outfitted. The store has served rodeo stars like Larry Mahan, Ty Murray, Tuff Hedeman, and many others. The store is also proud to have dressed almost every Kern County Sheriff since the early 1950s.

Exterior 1219 19th Street

Over the years, the company’s strength has been the emphasis on personal service, selection, and value. You can find a wide selection of boots, hats, jeans, shirts, belts, as well as all the other favorite Western accessories and gift items. Emporium Western Store carries a wide selection of hats from Stetson to Pendleton and has a boot for everyone in the family, carrying such brands as Justin and Georgia Boots. Of course, because it is a Western store, you can get your tried and true Western clothing brands like Wrangler and Carhartt, as well as all the latest brands of both male and female Western-wear. And the variety and quality in their belts, buckles, leather goods, and other accessories is just as impressive.

But it is the store’s philosophy that continues to be such a point of pride for the current owners. It’s good old-fashioned customer service at Emporium Western Store—where many customers are welcomed by name as they enter. Many longtime local families have been shopping at the store for three or four generations and old friends are always running into each other while doing a bit of shopping. The owners have always been proud of their employees and think of them as their own family. They continue to be proud of the fact that the business has provided hundreds of jobs over the years.

Interior 1219 19th Street

Emporium Western Store has been involved in many community events, such as the Buck Owens Rodeo, the Kern County Sheriff’s Reserve Stampede Days Rodeo, the Great Kern County Fair Livestock competitions, and many other equestrian and youth-oriented events. It has proudly supported the local community through direct involvement or the volunteer effort of its family members and employees in charities such as the Exchange Club, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and the American Cancer Society by holding Relay for Life fundraising barbeques in the parking lot. And that list is just the tip of the iceberg.

Emporium Western Store prides itself on being the oldest and largest locally-owned, full-service Western store in Kern County, and the store where real cowboys shop.

It has remained a local favorite by supplying current styles requested by lovers of the Western lifestyle and by continuing to stress service to the valued customers who shop there. In today’s world of chain stores and online shopping, the challenge now and through the 21st century is to offer great value and outstanding service at a level that can not be found elsewhere.

The personal touch is still very important at Emporium Western Store!

© 2011 - Bakersfield Magazine Inc.
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