J.L. Coombs is going out of business after 184 years of first making moccasins and later selling shoes, boots and clothes.

The company currently has stores in Portland and Freeport but at one point also had locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. A going-out-of-business sale begins Friday and will continue until the merchandise is sold, said Robert Pearl, who bought the company in 1991.

Pearl said he, like many local retailers, eventually couldn’t compete with online retailers and big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target.

“It was anything you could think of,” he said when asked about factors that led him to close the company, which has seven employees. “Anything and everything.”

The company logo was notable for a striking photograph of a stern-faced J.L. Coombs. Pearl said he chose the image because the photo captured a stereotypical Mainer and matched the founder’s flinty outlook.

Coombs began the company in 1830, making moccasins in Bangor, Pearl said. At that time, most shoes were custom-made, but Coombs pioneered the notion of mass manufacturing in footwear by pre-cutting leather pieces in bulk. He also copied the traditional Native American design for the shoes, right down to the bear fat waterproofing, Pearl said. But that didn’t sit well with some residents in a time when discrimination against local tribes was rife.

“He was really going against the tide,” Pearl said. “But he eventually said, ‘If you don’t like my shoes, the hell with you.’ He was an independent Maine guy who had a tendency to speak his mind.”

Coombs moved to the small town of Phillips in Franklin County, Pearl said, and several generations of the family continued to make moccasins, slippers and boots, selling them around the country, usually under the name of the store that retailed them.

The family eventually sold the business, Pearl said. When the new owner sought additional money, a bank asked Pearl – who was at that time director of manufacturing for Maine-based Dexter Shoe – to look at the operation. The company, Pearl said, was beset by the same problems facing other Maine shoe manufacturers, including high labor costs and low-priced foreign competition.

“It didn’t have any chance of succeeding,” he said.

The bank eventually decided not to lend and the company went out of business. Pearl bought the name and some of the equipment and set up a small operation making hand-sewn moccasins for export, but he ran into the same roadblocks, Pearl said. So he shifted from manufacturing to retailing.

“It did well most of the time except for the last few years,” Pearl said. At its height, the company operated six stores in three states.

But competition forced him to cut back the stores and now only two remain, Pearl said.

“What happens in retail now, the business shrinks beyond the effort you have to put in,” Pearl, 76, said. “I’m too old to work that hard – it’s seven days a week.”