I CAN STILL FEEL the taut cotton string snugged around the shoebox, knotted and clamping the lid in place, the smell of polish and leather locked inside.
I can taste, too, the sugary sweetness of the sucker tied to the shoebox, a treat for any child getting a new pair of shoes.
Leather and lollipops are as much a part of my childhood back-to-school memories as a Big Chief tablet and boxes of sharp-tipped Crayola crayons and lace-edged anklets.
Back in the day, there were stores that sold just shoes or retailers like Montgomery Wards which featured sizable shoe departments with full customer service. Employees measured your feet then disappeared behind a cloth-covered doorway only to return with stacked boxes of shoes.
I remember feeling like a princess of sorts as the clerk slipped a shoe onto my foot, sometimes yanking shoelace ends before tying a tight bow. I would wiggle my toes upon command as the salesman bent low, pressing on the tip of the shoe to assure the right fit.
Nostalgia today draws me to places like Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in Faribault, a third-generation family-owned business. It’s my favorite shoe store as much for the service and quality of shoes as for the people who work there.
Recently I checked out another area family-owned shoe store, Owatonna Shoe at 121 N. Cedar Avenue in Owatonna, 15 miles to the south of my community. I didn’t need shoes. Rather I simply wanted to poke around, to see for myself why others have raved about this place.
I found what I expected—a down-home friendly place with a welcoming atmosphere and great customer service.
As a bonus, I also discovered bits of the past in a collection of Buster Brown collectibles…
…and a mechanical horse for the kids to ride.
Owatonna Shoe’s business motto, published on its website, says it all:
“We don’t just want to make the sale, we want to make a customer for life.” It’s a long time philosophy of Owatonna Shoe. We pride ourselves in providing unparalleled customer service, unique product offerings, and personalized attention in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling