Yah, man. Bass is dead! They have traded quality workmanship in favor of trademarks. I have gone through 2 pairs in less than a year; the soles wear down too easily and the stitching tends to give way around the front upper. Decided I'll go with a look alike if I can. Thanks for the AE recommendation, BTW. Nice shop.This made me think about what other choices are available for someone who wants a pair of penny loafers but doesn't want them to be Bass. There are several options, depending on how much you care to spend. There are shoes that cost less than $100, like the Florsheim Cabot and Berkley, but they are made in China and will almost certainly be more of a disappointment than the Bass Weejuns.
All prices quoted below are "list" unless otherwise specified; try searching online for lower "street" pricing. And since the holiday shopping season is upon us, you might want to watch for discounts and deals at sites like Amazon, Endless, Piperlime, Shoebuy, or direct from the companies' own sites (Cole Haan was offering 30% off this past Monday, and they may well do so again before Christmas). If you don't have the option of going to a store and trying on shoes in person, I suggest buying from a site that offers free returns.
At the lower end, Sebago offers a traditional beefroll penny, in six colors and a wide range of sizes and widths, for $140. The bulk of Sebago's shoes are made in the Dominican Republic. I have a pair (not penny loafers), and they are decently made for what they cost. They used to offer a strap-style penny called the Cayman, which seems to have been discontinued but may still be available if you look around.
At the same price, you might consider the Lorenzo from David Spencer. These are available in narrow, medium, or wide, and are made in Mexico. (There's also a tassel version, but we don't talk about those.)
Cole Haan's Pinch Air penny ($168) looks traditional on the outside, but inside it's packed with Nike Air comfort technology and nicely padded footbeds. I've owned a pair of these for a year or so, and they are among my most comfortable shoes. Choice of widths, as you would expect. Made in India. Couple of things worth mentioning: the soles are leather with rubber inserts, which might matter to some people (most of the others mentioned here have all-leather soles and rubber heels); the leather is noticeably glossy, which can look a little odd if you are wearing them with more casual clothing; and there is also a version (older, I think) that does not have the Nike Air. It runs $20 less, but I can't imagine why someone wouldn't opt for the added comfort.
Brooks Brothers has a penny loafer ($188), but I don't know where they are made, I have not seen them in person or tried them on, and they are only available in medium width. If there's a BB near you, it might be worth a visit.
Passing the $200 barrier gets us to the Allen Edmonds Walden ($235). Made in USA, and available in the generous range of sizes and widths typical of the brand, these are the shoes I chose instead of Weejuns (though I found mine on eBay for far less). They also offer a similar style, the Montecito ($199), which has a lower vamp that may be more comfortable for those with higher insteps. (Why the price difference? I have no idea.) One advantage to spending more up front is that shoes like these can be resoled.
AE has a big sale once a year, but unfortunately it's already happened for this year. Sites like Shoebuy tend to exclude AE from their frequent discounts, but a week or two ago they did offer 10% off without restrictions, and on Monday Amazon and Endless were offering variable discounts depending on how much you spent, so getting these shoes for less than list can be done, but may take some extra effort.
Epaulet is a store in New York (locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan) offering a wide selection of house-brand clothing and footwear, much of it made in USA. They have a beautiful penny loafer that's made in Maine using Horween Chromexcel leather with a distinctive and subtle matte finish. It's only available in medium widths, and only in black, and at $295 it's a bit on the steep side, but this is most assuredly a quality shoe. They also have a few styles of beefroll loafers in the same general price range, done up in more casual-looking leathers.
If you're the sort of person who thinks of shoes as a lifetime investment, you should probably just go ahead and get a pair of Alden LHS ("leisure handsewn") loafers. They run about $450 a pair, but if you take good enough care of them, you'll be able to pass them on to your son a few decades from now.