Into the sunset: Robbye’s Western Wear casualty of Gulf oil spill


THEODORE, Ala. – At Robbye’s Western Wear in Theodore, the cowboy boots are marked way down, the fancy belt buckles are in deep discount, and spirits are getting lower by the day.

After 30 years, Robbye’s Western Wear is headed into the sunset, a casualty of the oil spill and its aftermath, according to Jeff Fisher, co-owner of the long-time family enterprise anchored by B&R Campers next door.

Located on U.S. 90 West, just south of Interstate 10, Robbye’s and B&R received a one-two punch from the spill, according to Fisher.

RV sales plummeted, and, with fewer snow birds, casual tourists, and beachgoers on their way to Dauphin Island, the Western shop became a lonesome corral some days.

“The Western wear store is being sacrificed to provide revenue for the campers,” said Fisher, referring to B&R, named for his parents, Bill and Robbye Fisher.

Fisher and his brothers run the RV side; his mother, Robbye Fisher, manages the clothing store. His father is deceased.

Robbye’s Western Wear opened in 1981, he said, to offset the slow sales of campers and RVs during the winter.

Now, sales are slow all around, he said.

“Since the oil spill,” said Fisher, “it’s the first time in our history that we’ve gone into negative numbers.

“I’ve gritted my teeth,” he said. “At what point do I cut my losses?”

It’s a question that has been nagging Fisher, with deepening intensity, for the better part of a year.

Fisher said that he had received only one check, to date, for an oil spill damage claim. That amount was comparable to a month’s revenue, he said.

He recently filed for a final settlement claim, he said, but has not received word on compensation. “I’m not at liberty to give the exact amount,” he said of the filing, “but it’s six figures.”

In the meantime, he said, “as a family we’ve taken money out of our pocket to keep the business going.”

He had to lay off long-term workers, taking his 15 full-time employees down to seven part-time.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Robbye Fisher, 70, presiding over the Western store with one of her daughters-in-law, Lisa Fisher.

Beneath the liquidation sale signs, she showed customers cowboy hats and fancy Western shirts.

Only 20 percent of her customers, she figured, have been regulars.

The rest were tourists stopping by on their way down U.S. 90, including Northerners residing South in the cold months and eager for a regional look.

Fans of NASCAR and country music, said Jeff Fisher, have been among the steady clientele wanting to buy boots and jeans.

For musicians James Copland, 29, and Skylar Gail, 18, who had stopped to pick up a bargain, Robbye’s has been a return destination.

Playing a brand of music they call “shoe gaze country” — an introspective, indie rock — the duo said they have to dress the part.

“I love this store,” said Copland, selecting a black, Western style shirt.

Gail said she felt sad to see a store “close to the heart,” offering fashion with regional roots, destined to close.

Kendall Lucas, who works in automobile sales but has a passion for horses, said his visit to the store Wednesday was a first.

As he tried on a black cowboy hat and gazed in the mirror, he said he was sorry to have discovered the store just in time for its farewell.

Outside, attracted by the signs announcing the close-out, more shoppers were pulling up.

Robbye Fisher said she would welcome retirement, but she seemed to brighten, too, every time someone new walked in the door.

After the liquidation is over in a few weeks, Jeff Fisher said, the space will become the parts department for B&R Campers.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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