Gather ’round podnuhs (that’s ‘partners’ for you city folk), and let me tell you about a place where the customer is still king – and the selection of boots, western wear and saddles could just about stretch from Omaha to El Paso. They call it Wolf Brothers Western Store – the Greater Omaha Chamber’s November Small Business of the Month – a family-owned outfit that started ’bout the time my own grand-pappy was knee-high to a grasshopper…
The roaring 20’s – Yee-haw! Two brothers by the names of Samuel and Joe Wolf founded a men’s clothing store in downtown Omaha –real nice duds but not a lot of western wear there in the beginning. In 1948, my compadre, Joe Kirshenbaum, bought the place and turned it into a full-scale western store. Funny thing is – Joe was a city slicker.
“He was not a western gentleman at all,” says Tom Kirshenbaum, Joe’s son and the store’s vice-president. “He just saw the need. The stockyards in Omaha were huge at the time, and there was a significant western influence in this area. My dad had the only real western store in the Midwest for a number of years.”
Over the years, the store moved around a bunch – from its original spot at 14th and Douglas Streets to the old Hill Hotel on 16th Street to a larger space in the Aquila Court Building (today’s Magnolia Hotel) in the mid-50’s. Wolf Brothers scooted over to 72nd & Dodge in the 60’s, and then to its current locale, 70th & Dodge, in the mid-70’s. (A tornado wiped the store out in 1975, but Joe rebuilt, adding more space for a saddle and tack department.) Despite all that movin’ around, one thing’s stayed the same – the Wolf Brothers’ commitment to fine customer service.
“Wolf Brothers has really developed a good name over the years,” Tom says. “Our bottom line is customer service. We have five full-time employees in the store at all times. We make it our goal to wait on each customer and really treat them right. … This is not a self-service store. You can’t buy boots without some help; there’s too much fitting involved.”
Even though those old stockyards are a memory now, Tom says business is still a-booming.
“We do a large business throughout the country. Western wear is very popular and timeless,” he says. “I actually show horses and quarter horses. We do a lot of business with other horse show participants.”
Tom started working for the store in 1971 after he finished his book learning. (He took over for his dad in 1990. Joe, 93, still helps out in the summer when he’s up from Californee (that’s California for you city folks).) Tom’s son, Matt, manages the outfit.
“This is a family-owned business, and we treat our employees like part of the family. They are tremendously loyal and very knowledgeable. A lot of our people show horses themselves so they are well-versed in helping with anything a customer needs,” Tom says.
The store employs ten folks; some have been there for more than 30 years. Tom says everyone has a lot of pride in what they do – and how they do it.
“The most rewarding thing is that we’ve been in business in Omaha for over 80 years. We still do business the ‘old school way.’ It’s not real fancy. Everything is pretty much the way it was years and years ago,” Tom says. “It’s very rewarding how many people I’ve met over the years and have become friends with just through business.”
Wolf Brothers has a longtime relationship with the Chamber. It’s been a member since 1980 or so. Tom says it’s mighty fine how the Chamber has helped support the store.
“The Chamber promotes a lot of different events. When people come in from New York, for example, and they’re looking for western wear, the Chamber directs them to Wolf Brothers,” Tom says. “We’ve always supported the Chamber and everything they’ve done.”
The store is also a big supporter of the Aksarben’s River City Rodeo & Stock Show and the River City Roundup before that. In 1978, Wolf Brothers started its own free, annual Wolf Brothers Horse Show. Number 36 was held on Aug. 18 at Skyline Ranches in the Elkhorn area.
“We try to support a lot of causes in the Omaha area,” Tom says.
As for the future of the store? No fancy plans.
“I have never liked the idea of putting stores all over. We try very hard to keep it personal, and it seems to work very well for us where we are, right in midtown in a really good location.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is the sponsor of the Small Business of the Month award. View more information or nominate a small business online.