After 37 years of ownership, Pete Gimre is retiring and selling historic Gimre’s Shoes downtown. His buyer has a familiar name and face — his brother, Jon.
The store, opened in Astoria in 1892 by Pete and Jon’s grandfather, Sven Gimre, is one of the North Coast’s signature retailers. The business was eventually passed on to their father, who then passed it along to them in 1984. They opened another location in Hillsboro the following year.
About six years ago, Pete Gimre said he got tired of the traveling between locations, so he and his brother agreed to split responsibilities. Jon Gimre would run the store in Hillsboro, as well as two New Balance stores they operated, and Pete Gimre would run the Astoria location on 14th Street.
Pete Gimre officially retired on Sunday.
Due to the extensive family history within the company, he considered it common sense to pass it along to his brother.
“We always had a desire to keep everything in the family and my first thought was for it to go to my brother,” he said. “It really didn’t go beyond that.”
Throughout much of the coronavirus pandemic, Gimre employed only two part-time workers, meaning he was often left to run the store on his own. He admits that burnout from the past year and a half played a role in his decision to retire.
“Anyone who was in retail through the whole COVID situation has gone through some sense of fatigue in one manner or another,” he said. “I certainly felt it.”
Gimre credits Paycheck Protection Program loans for his store’s ability to survive. Since then, Gimre said sales have rebounded and July was one of the better months on record.
“It makes you feel good that there is demand out there for a store like ours and brick and mortar still has a chance in today’s world,” he said.
When Pete and Jon Gimre’s father passed along the business, he told them to, “Treat people when they come into your store like a guest in your home.” That philosophy won over many within the community, as evident by the large number of people who showered Gimre with congratulations and well wishes on his retirement announcement on Facebook.
“(I have) no regrets at all,” he said. “I have made more friends from just meeting people in the store. The store has allowed me to give back into the community like I never would have imagined when I was 24 years old in multiple ways.”
Gimre is grateful for the community that continues to embrace the store, a community he does not plan on leaving anytime soon.
Instead, he will continue to enjoy the hiking, kayaking and outdoor activities that the region offers.
When Gimre thinks back to what downtown Astoria was like when he was in high school, he remembers a number of shoe stores.
While a few have remained open, most have come and gone, Gimre said.
“Gimre’s has always found a way to survive and I think it’s because of hard work and dedication,” he said. “We have been extremely fortunate to have the most loyal employees — long-term employees — I could ever dream of over the course of time.
“That is a testament that we are doing something right.”
Gimre does not envision that changing under his brother’s leadership.
“I wanted to keep that legacy going and keep it in the family if at all possible,” he said.