The first clue of the longevity of Votruba Leather Goods Co. in downtown Traverse City are the items that line a large shelf hanging on the store’s east side – more than a century’s worth of storage trunks, suitcases and leather bags it’s displayed over the years.
“It’s like a museum,” an employee said.
Indeed, few businesses are woven into downtown’s fabric like Votruba’s. Founded by Czech immigrant Frank Votruba who had moved to Traverse City from East Jordan, Votruba and two other partners helped found the historic City Opera House in 1891. He moved his harness and leather shop into the ground floor of the East Front Street building – where it remains today.
While the Chamber is celebrating 100 years of community service this year, its membership records only go back to 1935. Votruba’s is among a handful of local businesses that are listed as charter members of the Chamber from that year. Back then it was owned by William Votruba, the son of Frank and Amelia who took over after he returned from World War I. William and his wife, Gretchen, ran the business for close to 40 years before they sold it in 1967 to Earl and Martha Glaesmer.
Earl was the manager of old Sears Roebuck catalogue store in downtown Traverse City, and the sale launched another long period of family ownership that’s reached nearly 50 years. Current owner Kerry Glaesmer grew up working in the store and returned in 1975, and took over its management in 1987 after his father passed away.
The downtown has changed immensely over the years, and Votruba’s has evolved as well. These days the former harness shop features a diverse inventory, from the latest in modern travel gear to a wide range of leather goods, travel items, games, albums, handbags, accessories and more.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the store’s historic look and feel, including an old safe that’s said to be from the shop’s earliest days.
Another constant has been Votruba’s involvement in the Traverse City Area Chamber. The store took part in the Chamber’s Small Business Celebration last year, and Kerry suspects it was part of the organization even before the earliest membership records from 80 years ago.
Congratulations to Votruba Leather Goods Co. as its celebrates 141 years of business in downtown Traverse City – and thanks for your eight decades of involvement with the Traverse City Area Chamber.