The walls of Cornell Clothing Co. on Courthouse Square in downtown Newark are covered from floor to ceiling with vintage Levi’s jeans and autographed celebrity headshots. 

Leather belts from California, sweaters from Ireland, and t-shirts made in the Licking County city fill the racks of the family-owned shop located at 24 North Park Place. 

Robin Pierce, 82, the store’s owner, sits among the curated clutter on a lawn chair. His Havanese dog, Cuba, sleeps at his feet. 

“At the moment, it’s just me. There are about 10,000 items here and nobody else knows them like I do,” Pierce said. “It’s easier to be a one-man computer!” he added, laughing at his unmatched expertise gained over a lifetime at the store. 

The shop is part clothing store, part museum. Pierce sells everything from vintage apparel and Boy Scout uniforms to signed posters and vinyl records, each item possessing a unique history. 

Cornell Clothing Co. was founded in 1898 by Arthur Weisman, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe. Just as an influx of Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States, new technologies, such as the steam-powered loom, were emerging in the textile industry. With limited job prospects in the U.S., many Jewish immigrants, such as Weisman, became entrepreneurs, opening clothing stores and other retail businesses. In fact, Cornell Clothing Co. was one of many other clothing stores founded by Jewish residents of Newark. 

But as others faded away, Cornell Clothing Co. has stood the test of time, earning the title of the longest-running business founded by a Jewish immigrant in Licking County. 

“Art and my grandfather used to run around together. That’s how this all started,” Pierce said. 

The Pierce family’s presence at Cornell Clothing goes back to 1910, when Pierce’s grandfather worked at the store with Weisman at 29 South Place, its location until 1941. After moving to their permanent storefront on North Park Place, Weisman sold his store to Edgar Pierce, Robin’s father, in 1946, when Weisman and his wife, Bertha Schonberg, relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico, due to his failing health. 

Before 24 North Park Place became Cornell Clothing Co., it was home to The Natoma Restaurant, the tile floor of which is still intact today. Before that, the space was occupied by a hotel and was a stagecoach stop, with a bar nextdoor that Cornell took over in the 1970s. Pierce says that celebrities such as Al Capone, Paul Newman, and Ralph Lauren are said to have passed through the bar. 

“I started working here when I was 4. I did the sweeping and washed the windows,” Pierce said. 

Having grown up in the store, Pierce had plans to leave it behind after graduating from Newark High School. He intended to work for Walt Disney’s animation department, but his local connection passed away before Pierce was set up with a job. He then attended University of Cincinnati as a pre-med student, hoping to use his artistic talents as a medical illustrator. But when Pierce was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1964, his life took yet another unexpected turn – one that ultimately led him back to his father’s shop in Newark.  

Pierce took over running Cornell Clothing Co. in the late ’60s. He has dedicated his life to preserving his family’s legacy at the store, managing his father’s Boy Scout memorabilia and collection of vintage Levi’s, which he said Cornell Clothing Co. was first to sell in Ohio. The store is home to a few pairs of jeans that feature the company’s original logo. Pierce pointed to the “uppercase E” on the tag – a piece of trivia only an expert would know – as proof of their age 

Luckily, looking after his time capsule of a store has not distracted from Pierce’s artistic endeavors. Pierce played the drums in eight different bands between 1964 and 1990, including the Newark-based group The Triumphs, and still has a drumset in his at-home studio today. 

In addition to his rock ’n’ roll talent, he has exercised his drawing skills by designing his own line of t-shirts for the store since the ’50s. 

Now, at 82, when he’s not dreaming up new t-shirt slogans, Pierce says he spends his days helping customers, most of whom are from out of town. 

“Everybody comes in here. Taiwan, Nashville, North Carolina, Florida – I’ve had people from everywhere come through here. You just never know,” Pierce said. 

Whether customers are drawn in by the store’s mid-century modern blue storefront or the Hawaiian shirts in its display windows, they are sure to find one-of-a-kind relics with a history of their own. Behind the register are photographs of The Beatles taken by Pierce himself, hanging next to an autographed photo of BB King, which he scored by helping Midland Theatre, located a few doors east on the same block, book its performers for 20 years. 

Maryann Crist, director of the Midland Theatre, says that Pierce has been a wonderful asset to his community. On sunny days, she says, she can always count on Pierce to be sitting outside Cornell, greeting customers with his dog, Cuba. 

“His beautiful store, with all its iconic items, is a museum all of its own. Robin has become a permanent part of downtown,” Crist said. 

With a front-row view of downtown Newark, Pierce has watched businesses come and go for decades. Sadly, he said, businesses have mostly gone, and the entire downtown area has changed around Cornell Clothing Co.

Though the shop has remained steady for more than 125 years, Pierce says the secret to staying afloat is actually to keep changing. When Weisman first opened the store, he sold suites, ties, and other professional attire. Pierce and his father slowly incorporated “rock ’n’ roll clothes” and “all sorts of weird stuff” to keep up with evolving fashion trends. 

Today, the store feels like a museum, both of the city of Newark and Pierce and his predecessors. Everywhere you look, little slices of history preserve the shop’s legacy, all the way back to Weisman’s original shop. 

As for the store’s future, Pierce said, “It depends on what my kids want to do with it.”

“Until then, I don’t know. I’ll just keep pluggin’ and having fun!”

Katie Corner writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.