Kuebler Shoes is finishing its 180th year in business as 2012 comes to a close. Founded in 1832, the store is likely the oldest retail store in Ohio, and one of the oldest shoe stores in the nation.
"We're glad we're here to provide what we do for the community," said owner Joe Obringer.
State Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, presented Obringer with a commendation Monday from the Ohio House of Representatives celebrating the milestone.
"Kuebler Shoes is believed to be the longest continuously running retail store in the state of Ohio," Damschroder said. "It is great to honor their remarkable achievement today."
Mayor Aaron Montz, presented him with a proclamation and John Detwiler, president and CEO of Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services, joined in the recognition.
The store opened 15 years after Tiffin was founded in 1817, Montz said.
"It was a cobbler shop," Obringer said. "It served the first settlers of Tiffin."
During the time the store opened, American Indians were being forced from the area, Josiah Hedges and Erastus Bowe lived here, and St. Mary Catholic Church had been founded a year earlier.
The store was founded by Joseph Kuebler, who emigrated from Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1832. His two sons, Anthony and Blasius, learned the craft from their father as they sold shoes from their homes - first on Jefferson Street and later on Main Street.
When their father died in 1855, the brothers built a three-story brick building, which still stands at 122 S. Washington St., and formed A. & B. Kuebler Boots and Shoes. The store continued to be passed down from fathers to sons, changing locations and changing names but keeping "Kuebler' in the name.
In 1979, under the direction of fifth-generation John Kuebler, the store was recognized by the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants as the oldest family shoe store in Ohio.
Obringer said he "fell into" ownership - or "stepped in it," as Detwiler said - after he was hired as a summer employee by John Kuebler. After a few months, Kuebler asked if he would be interested in taking over the store after he retired a few years in the future. He bought the business in 1985.
"I learned from him for four years," Obringer said.
Damschroder said he decided Kuebler's should be recognized after a trip to the store to buy shoes.
"I needed a pair of shoes, and I heard this is a great place to buy a pair of shoes," he said.
During the conversation, while Obringer was measuring his feet, Damschroder said they began talking the store's history.
"We need to recognize this," he said.
Damschroder said there's a possibility Kuebler's in the oldest shoe store in the nation. He showed Obringer a national magazine story about another shoe store in Belfast, Maine, that was founded in 1832 called Colburn Shoe Store. In that story, the shoe store claims to be the oldest in the nation.
Obringer said the month the store opened isn't known.
Obringer said he's seen many changes in his 27 years there.
"The store has been able to stay in business while other local family-owned stores have gone by the wayside,' he said. "People are still wearing shoes."
But the first Kueblers wouldn't believe the customer base now.
In addition to Tiffin and area towns, Obringer said customers travel to Tiffin from Toledo, Columbus and the Detroit area.
"Just the other day I had a customer in here from a town near Detroit," he said. "She heard about us through the internet.
"I just hope the store can be here another 180 years," Obringer said.
Damschroder stressed the importance of small businesses in the community.
"As we enter the final week of the Christmas shopping season, it is important to remember our local businesses here in our backyard and support them," he said.