LIVERMORE -- If you feel like you've stepped backward in time when you go downtown and enter Baughman's Western Outfitters -- you have.
Cowboys and ranchers have been buying western wear at Baughman's since the year Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang shot it out at the OK Corral. It's the oldest continually operated business in Livermore and may hold a national record.
"We've been researching to see if we can find an older western wear store in the country," said Baughman's current owner, Rory Janes. "Last year we found an article naming another business that's three or four years younger, so that puts us in the driver's seat on that claim. "
Known today for supplying the area's equestrians and western fashionistas alike with boots, hats and other clothing, Baughman's holds a special place in the city's history. The business was begun in 1881 by Charles Victor and his brother-in-law, Isaac Harris, in the location on First Street where Proctor's Custom Framing stands today. It was the same year Billy the Kid escaped from a New Mexico jailhouse.
"I think when it was first conceived it was more of a general dry goods and clothing store," Janes said. "It carried shoes, footwear and headwear of all kinds for mostly men and boys ... (but) an old tin sign also shows lace-up leather shoes for women."
In those days, men's short-rise cowboy "shoes" sold for $4.85 a pair, with work boots listed at $7.45 and dress boots at $16.95. The store accepted trade goods such as firewood, as well as cash, according to "Historic Livermore A-Z" by author and historian Anne Homan. By 1915, Victor's son Morris had joined the firm, along with a young clerk, John M. "Jack" Baughman. Baughman became a half-owner in 1922, and the sole owner a decade later, when the Victor family sold their company shares to him shortly before the death of Morris Victor.
Baughman narrowed his inventory, focusing on western clothing, boots and hats, Janes said. He eventually retired in the 1950s, and the business changed hands several times before Janes' father, Stan, bought it around 1967.
"My father got out of the service in 1945, and bought a small haberdashery in Sebastopol," Rory Janes recalled. "He grew it and began other stores in Woodland, Vacaville and Sacramento. He had a chain of six stores but began to realize that department stores were killing independent men's stores. He searched for other areas that were immune to that and focused on this area of western apparel in Livermore."
When Pete Christesen, owner of Christesen's in Pleasanton, died, Janes purchased that store as well.
"Of his small retail empire, these two are the only remaining locations," Janes said. "He sold the others."
Janes, fresh out of college with a degree in personnel management and industrial psychology, came to work for his father in 1974.
"He made me a deal I couldn't refuse," he joked.
In 1976, Baughman's lost its lease and moved to its current location -- a former hardware store that previously had been the old J.C. Penney building.
"The business has moved four times in its life, but all of the locations have been on First Street," Janes said.
Today, Baughman's is a thriving niche retailer that employs 20 to 25 people seasonally and supplies equestrians of all types with boots, headwear and other Western clothing. Its sister store, Christensen's, specializes in items geared toward English riding and racetrack needs. The businesses are easily identified by the life-size plastic horses that have stood guard over each building's front door for years.
"There are a lot of recreational horse owners here and activities all year long," Janes said. "There are horse shows, 4-H activities and people doing team penning and roping. We also have an eclectic mix of physicists and wine growers and cattle ranchers."
Interestingly, some of his regular customers are local and visiting physicists who travel frequently between Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories and favor western and southwestern gear.
"They're comfortable in bolo ties," he said.
Even with the city's current growth and urbanization, Janes expects Baughman's to trot comfortably into its 132nd year of business thanks to the steady popularity of western-style clothing and ongoing support from its clientele.
"The main reason we're still alive and well and promoting western wear is because of the support we get from the Livermore community over the years as it evolves from agriculture to more metropolitan," he said. "We have support from the remaining agricultural people and from everyone else who enjoys the idea of a good pair of jeans and boots."
Baughman's is at 2029 First St. in Livermore. Visit www.baughmans.com.