Having spent nearly a century in downtown Fremont, Sampter’s will soon close its doors for the final time.
“It was a very hard decision to do this because I realize it’s a loss to our community to lose this business like any store,” owner Bob Missel said. “And so it was very difficult, but I felt that it was my time and the timing was right.”
The clothing store at 517 N. Main St. is having a series of closing sales.
Sampter’s roots go back to 1883, when Missel’s great-grandfather Nathan Sampter opened Nathan Sampter’s One Price Clothing on Sixth Street.
“Later on, he moved to a new location on Main Street a little north of this existing store,” Missel said. “And then he, along with some other business partners, built the building that we’re in today and he officially opened that store in 1900.”
After Sampter’s death in 1910, the family had to sell the business. But 15 years later, his son Gerald bought the building back.
“So we say we’ve been in business consistently since 1925 for 96 years, however, our history in the community goes much, much deeper,” Missel said.
For the next 58 years, Sampter ran the men’s clothing store. In 1983, two of his longtime employees reached out to the family to see if anyone would be interested in assisting Sampter, who was in his 80s.
“Well, the timing was good because I had just become unemployed from my current job,” Missel said. “So I convinced my wife, Michelle, 'Let’s go to Fremont, Nebraska, for a year and see what it looks like.’ ”
The Missels’ plan to move from Dearborn, Michigan, to briefly live in Fremont ended up with the couple deciding to stay. Missel worked with his grandfather until his death in December 1985.
Sampter’s primarily sold men’s apparel, including suits, dress shirts, dress pants and ties for professional usage up until the 1990s.
“And then you started to see, I called it the ‘Microsoft effect,’ but we started dressing down and we noticed right away, all of a sudden we started selling less dress clothing,” Missel said. “So we really started to focus on expanding our men’s sportswear and doing a bigger job of that.”
That decade, Sampter’s also expanded to include women's clothing, which now makes up a third of the store’s volume, as well as shoes. Sampter’s also saw an expansion in 1995; Missel said many stores at the turn of the century were long and and narrow.
“They had to keep everything in a cupboard or a drawer or behind glass, so you came into a store and a clerk got what you needed,” Missel said. “And so by taking over the other half of this building, we were able to display better and show our sportswear better and ultimately add the ladies’.”
As well as expanding the store, Missel also became involved in the Fremont community. He previously served as president of the Downtown Business Association and chairman of the Business Improvement District, and he has served as chairman of the Dodge County Board of Supervisors since 2005.
Sampter’s itself has also garnered recognition; it was named 2008 Nebraska Retailer of the Year, which Missel attributed to the store’s ability to adapt to clothing trends.
But in recent years, Missel said, he’s seen a “tremendous” shift to online, warehouse and direct-to-consumer purchasing.
“I never thought my vendors would go into competition with me, but they have, and so the dynamics have changed,” he said. “Retail’s become tougher and tougher for a single independent merchant.”
After a couple of years of consideration, Missel and his family decided over the summer to close Sampter’s.
“The goal is just to sell everything,” he said. “We don’t have an end date, but surely over the next few weeks, we anticipate to move the bulk of the inventory.”
With his retirement, Missel said, he’ll have more time to dedicate to the County Board as well as to his hobby of coin collecting. As president of the Nebraska Numismatic Association, he said, he can now travel to national shows and help friends with currency appraisals.
Missel said he was thankful for his employees, including tailor Lynn Frese and account manager Holly Goldsberry, as well as his wife and two daughters, Megan and Jennifer, who both worked at the store.
As he moves on to the next chapter of his life, Missel said, he’s grateful for those he’s gotten to help in the Fremont community, whether it’s someone preparing for a job interview or a family getting ready to go to a funeral.
“To be able to help them through that process and hopefully make it easier, that’s special to me,” he said. “And so I will miss that.”