Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Owatonna: Celebrating the old-fashioned shoe store September 10, 2013

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.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

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.

They'll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

They’ll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

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.

A clerk retrieves a box of shoes for a customer.

A clerk carries a box of shoes for a customer.

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.

Owatonna Shoe is located to another long-time local business, St. Clair's for Men in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

Owatonna Shoe is located next to another long-time business, St. Clair’s for Men, in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

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 the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basment, complete with vintage chairs.

I found the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basement, complete with what appear to be vintage chairs.

I found what I expected—a down-home friendly place with a welcoming atmosphere and great customer service.

On display: several items of Buster Brown memorabilia.

On display: Buster Brown memorabilia.

As a bonus, I also discovered bits of the past in a collection of Buster Brown collectibles…

Colorful vintage chairs in the basement.

Colorful vintage chairs and shoes in the basement.

…vintage chairs…

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. It's original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy's Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990.

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. Its original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy’s Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990. The horse still works.

…and a mechanical horse for the kids to ride.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

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.

FYI: To learn more about Owatonna Shoe, which has been serving the area for more than 65 years with service, quality and fit, click here.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This place pops with color and Owatonna pride.

This place pops with color and pride for the Owatonna Huskies.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A nod to Owatonna's namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna, at home where her statue stands in Mineral Springs Park.

A nod to Owatonna’s namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna. As the story goes, the maiden drank from the healing natural spring waters in the current day Mineral Springs Park.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

17 Responses to “In Owatonna: Celebrating the old-fashioned shoe store”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Love the Buster Brown items and the mechanical horse. I would not have expected the horse in a shoe store at all but how neat to have it there. Even if you did not buy any shoes that day did you find a favorite pair?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Since I was concentrating mostly on taking photos, I did not really focus on shoes. But, after viewing my images, I wish I had checked the size on those lime green ones in the last photo. That’s always been one of my favorite colors. Think a lime green bedroom as a teen. People would be shocked to see me wearing bright shoes like that.

      • Beth Ann Says:

        It would be a bit out of character for you I bet but hey—maybe it is time for a change. 🙂

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Well, I did buy a green purse a few years ago, but have since gotten rid of it because it was looking rough. But I still have my lime green purse from my childhood.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    Buster Brown and Tige…….definitely a ‘blast from the past’!!! And those x-ray machines that you stepped up on and slide your feet inside……you could look through the viewer and see your toes wriggling inside your shoes!! LOL! Of course they posed such danger and were eventually removed—-excessive radiation threat!!! I wondered that we never heard of “foot cancers” developing!!!! LOL!!! Great post!!!!!!

  3. I think it is pretty cool that shoe stores like this still exist today and that there is customer service too! I recently bought tennis shoes and it is really hard to try them on when they are secured together for security puposes. I miss the Ward and going on family shopping trips which included lunch out and sometimes even a movie matinee. Happy Tuesday:)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Stores like Owatonna Shoe are true gems with so few of them around anymore.

      Sometimes our family shopping trips ended with a meal at a restaurant, but not all that often. Then the meal of choice was typically a beef commercial. I’m glad you have fond memories, too, of trips to town to shop.

  4. Jackie Says:

    Ahhhh, the sweet memories of childhood, you described it so well. We always felt so special to have our feet measured, and the shoes tied for us. I think we still have one of those shoe stores in Rochester…O&B Shoes downtown, top notch service and great shoe selection.

  5. […] I: In Owatonna: Celebrating the old-fashioned shoe store (Minnesota Prairie […]


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