After 71 years in business, four locations, a handful of evolutions and two generations, Barkan's clothing store is closing its doors in downtown Rock Island.

Steve Barkan, who has worked full-time for 51 years at the store founded by his parents, said it is time to take it easy and devote more time to enjoying his grandchildren's activities. "I came to realize my desire to retire overtook my need to succeed,'' he said Tuesday on the first day of his going-out-of-business sale. 

Located at 1709 2nd Ave., Barkan's has been a downtown institution, occupying four different storefronts within a two-block stretch of 2nd Avenue over seven decades. Barkan, who greeted each customer and many by name as they flooded in, said he has known some customers for three and four generations.

Barkan, 75, recalled how the store has reinvented itself with the changing fashion trends. In 1946, when his parents, Mac and Pearl, opened the store, it was mostly a women's store with about a quarter of the inventory for men. "We serviced a lot of women who had office jobs downtown then," he said.

But as dresses, suits and blouses gave way to more relaxed styles and downtown employed fewer people, Barkan's shifted to a menswear store in the late 1980s, he said. "I knew we had to evolve." 

In 1997, the store made another major shift to young men's fashion and a new style: hip-hop. Today, Barkan described his inventory as lifestyle attire for young men with an urban flavor. He added, "What really became important was shoes." The store has been an authorized dealer for Nike and Air Jordan brands athletic shoes.

In preparation of the liquidation sale, Barkan said he requested his daughter, Rachel Barkan, one of his three children, come back from New York to help.

As the oldest retailer in downtown, he knows his willingness to reinvent and evolve the store kept it thriving. "When you become a niche store it evolves into a destination store."

Longtime employee Matt Hart, Barkan's vice president, said the closing has been emotional for the few employees and all the customers, who rushed in Tuesday after learning about it.

"I feel like I grew up here," said the 41-year-old Hart, who has nearly 20 years at the store and has been handling its merchandising for 15 years. His teenage daughter, Kylie Hart, also works there part-time.

Raynikka Adams, a customer from Rock Island, arrived with a bouquet of flowers and a card, asking Barkan, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I'm in shock to hear it," she said, adding that Barkan has been a "father figure" to so many. "I worked for him a couple of years," she said. "I'm sad to see him go. Now he can spend more time with his grandkids."

Hart said it's well-deserved time off for Barkan, who "probably put in more hours than he should have."

Barkan joined the business in 1966, taking it over from his parents in 1980. His father worked for the Kaybee clothing chain in Davenport before deciding to open Barkan's. At one time, Barkan's had stores in Clinton, Iowa, and Galesburg, Illinois, as well as Rock Island. Mac Barkan worked in the Rock Island store until he died at age 70 in 1985. Pearl retired in 1994. She died in 2001.

Asked why he did not sell the store, Barkan said "This is not the environment for a retail business to be selling right now." 

He said his store was still finding a strong customer base, but it's just time to slow down.