In 1947, Matt’s father, Jerome Esser started the business, which carried shoes and clothing, but according to Matt, was primarily a shoe store. After 22 years in business, Jerome put a call in to Matt, who was then employed as a manager for the Iowa City JC Penney store. Jerome wanted to move to Las Vegas and was ready to sell the store. Matt purchased it in 1969, and in 1979, he opened a shoe store at the present day location of Tujetsch Insurance & Realty. In 1983, there was a fire at that building, and the shoe store was moved to the present day location of Anytime Fitness from 1984 until the late 80s. In the 1990s, the River Park Drive store was expanded to include what is now Connie’s Apparel (named for Matt’s wife), and the shoe store on the highway rejoined the rest of the store on River Park Drive.
Matt considers the store to actually be four stores in one; a men’s clothing store, ladies’ clothing store, shoe store, and screen printing shop. Most customers visit Esser’s to purchase shoes because they can get custom fit, high quality shoes, and well known brands which may not be available in other small towns. Matt knows his customers well - including their shoe sizes and preferred styles.
In the 1990s, Esser’s began screen printing, with Matt learning those skills by trial and error. With a chuckle, he says, “We’ve ruined a lot of shirts over the years.” Esser’s screen prints apparel for sports teams, schools, events, businesses and organizations, family reunions, and more. Many designs are for sale in the store, and Matt has samples of many screen printed items on display. In addition to shoes and screen printing, the store has large selections of men’s and women’s fashions and accessories, workwear, athletic wear and gear, and offers tuxedo rental for formal occasions.
Matt enjoys the independence of owning his own business and being his own boss. He employs five people who help run the store and likely know their customers almost as well as Matt does. Matt says that choosing the clothing to have in store is the most interesting part of his business, and he attends six to eight trade shows every year to pick out new fashions and styles to bring to the store. As they did in the early days of this store’s history, some companies still come to the store to show the shoes and clothing they have available.
The store has many longtime customers, and Matt feels that the locals of Guttenberg have been very loyal over the years. For close to 70 years, Esser’s customers have enjoyed the convenience of being able to find what they want and need in town, along with the variety of apparel and shoes and low prices that the store offers.