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Rockport shoe company signals plan to shutter Newton HQ

Half-century-old shoe brand tells the state it could close up shop and axe nearly 150 jobs in July.

Men's shoes on display at The Rockport Group's Newton headquarters in 2017.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Shoe designer Rockport Company LLC has notified state officials that it may shut down its headquarters in West Newton as soon as July, a move that could eliminate nearly 150 jobs.

In a notice filed on May 9 with the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, Rockport said that it anticipates employee separations may occur between July 8 and July 22. The layoffs could be shifted to a later date, and the exact number is not yet definite. The company left open the possibility that job cuts would not happen, saying that it “may be required to complete a major reduction in its workforce,” but these kinds of notices usually aren’t filed unless there is a good possibility of pending layoffs.


The entire office could be closed as a result. Rockport said 148 employees may be affected — that is, all of the people who work at the headquarters at 1220 Washington St., overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Executives at Rockport and at Charlesbank Capital Partners, the Boston private equity firm that owns Rockport, did not return messages seeking comment.

The shoe company has a long history in Massachusetts. It was launched in 1971 by Bruce Katz and his father, Saul. Bruce Katz led the company, then based in Marlborough, before reaching a deal to sell it to Reebok in 1986. Under Katz’s watch, Rockport pioneered the concept of incorporating elements of athletic shoes in regular footwear. (Katz, a legend in the shoe industry who more recently founded the Samuel Hubbard Shoe Co., died from a fall in his California home last year.)

Reebok held onto the Rockport business for three decades, eventually selling it in 2015. That deal, done with private equity backing from Berkshire Partners, combined Rockport with New Balance affiliate Drydock Footwear — a group that comprised of New Balance’s casual and dress shoe brands such as Dunham, Aravon, and Cobb Hill. The resulting group kept the Rockport name and moved into its current brick office building nearly two years later, as part of the separation from Reebok. At the time of the move, about 215 people worked at the Newton headquarters.


Rockport ran into financial difficulties, filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and was acquired by Charlesbank. Gregg Ribatt was picked to be Rockport’s CEO, and Charlesbank added the Reef sandal brand to Rockport’s portfolio later that year.

Rockport was eyeing new markets as recently as a few months ago, when it unveiled a lineup of golfing shoes. As part of the March announcement, Rockport said its various shoe brands were being sold in more than 60 countries.

In recent years, however, Rockport has pared back the space it occupies in its West Newton building, and now shares it with corporate offices for café chain Panera.

Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber, expressed dismay at the potential closure of Rockport’s headquarters.

“I always enjoyed walking around Newton knowing that I was wearing shoes made by a local employer and member of our chamber,” Reibman said in an e-mail. “It’s sad to see this happening.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.