Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring Red Wing, Part II: Red Wing Shoes August 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY HUSBAND IS A HARDWORKING automotive machinist, on his feet all day resurfacing heads, turning brake rotors, rebuilding engines and more. His work is always in demand because so few do what he does and he’s good at what he does. Really good.

 

Step inside the Red Wing Shoe Store

Step inside the Red Wing Shoe Store in downtown Red Wing and this gigantic 20-foot long by 16-foot high, 2,300 pound replica Red Wing work boot grabs your attention. It’s in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records.

 

He needs sturdy work boots that offer comfort and support and protection from grease, oil and dirt. Sometimes he’s worn Red Wing boots, sometimes boots from Mason Shoes across the border in Wisconsin.

 

Night-time outside the Red Wing Shoe Store.

Darkness descends outside the Red Wing Shoe Store.

 

On a 2014 visit to Red Wing, the Red Wing Shoe Store and its on-site second floor museum were on our must-stop list. Randy was having problems with a pair of Red Wing boots not fitting properly. He’d tried to get the issue resolved at our local Red Wing shoe provider. But still, the problem persisted. Go straight to the source, he decided.

 

Randy stepped onto a machine which determined pressure points on this feet and projected the results onto a screen.

Randy stepped onto a machine which determined pressure points on his feet and projected the results onto a screen.

 

The search began for the right boots.

The search began for the right boots.

 

Randy received great one-on-one attentive customer service.

Randy received great one-on-one attentive customer service.

 

That was the right decision. While Randy’s feet were measured and checked for pressure points and he tried on numerous boots, I meandered. Through the outlet store, through the museum. Eventually Randy found boots and the old ones were determined defective, just as he thought all along. We spent a lot of time at the store, but left satisfied customers.

 

The iconic Red Wing shoe logo.

The iconic Red Wing Shoes logo.

 

Since 1905, when Red Wing Shoes was founded in this Mississippi River town in eastern Minnesota, this shoe company has been crafting shoes for hardworking people like my husband. Footwear in the company’s Heritage Collection is made just as it was originally, handcrafted from premium leather.

 

A museum map

A museum map shows Red Wing’s global market.

 

But, I discovered, not all Red Wing shoes are made in Minnesota. Those new boots Randy got, well, they are made in China, says so on the label inside the tongue. To be honest, we both felt a bit betrayed, thinking he’d gotten American-made boots. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

 

Rows of boots line a wall leading to the second floor museum.

Rows of boots line a wall leading to the second floor museum.

 

Even given that discovery, my husband remains loyal to the Red Wing brand. He likes his new boots, which I convinced him not to wear to work. He looks really good in his 435 Men’s 6-inch boots. They’re much sexier than sloppy tennis shoes. That left him without work boots. So he ordered a pair from across the border.

 

Even Hollywood chooses Red Wing shoes, according to this info in the museum.

Even Hollywood chooses Red Wing shoes, according to this info in the museum.

 

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. So much for customer loyalty. His new boots from Wisconsin aren’t fitting all that well. Maybe he should have gone Red Wing again, stuck to the iconic workhorse boots which sometimes, and sometimes not, are made in a Minnesota river town.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

Red Wing boot sculptures can be seen in downtown Red Wing.

Red Wing boot sculptures can be seen in downtown Red Wing.

 

A letter is posted in the museum from a long ago customer.

A letter is posted in the museum from a long ago customer attesting to the quality of the shoes.

 

I slipped into a Red Wing boot in the dress-up section of the museum.

I slipped into a Red Wing boot in the kids’ dress-up section of the museum. Kids are encouraged to try on an outfit and Red Wing shoes.

 

envelopne

In 1912, The Red Wing Shoe Company began using the “Chief” logo to promote a new line of “Chief” products. Inspiration for the “Chief” graphic came from an employee’s childhood photo collection. The logo was used until 1928, when it was replaced with the red wing logo design.

 

In the gift shop, I spotted this beautiful Red Wing Pottery bowl.

In the gift shop, I spotted this beautiful Red Wing Pottery bowl.

 

A lovely old door in the shoe store.

A lovely old door in the shoe store.

 

FYI: Click here to read the first in my series of stories from Red Wing.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the legacy of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes through film October 20, 2017

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes opened in 1949, starting first as a shoe and harness repair shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON A STREET CORNER in downtown Faribault, local icon Burkhartzmeyer Shoes still stands strong after nearly 70 years in business. That’s remarkable really considering the many chain and other shoe sources in today’s marketplace.

But the family members running this business through three generations also rate as remarkable, assuring its success. I know first-hand as I’ve shopped for foot wear at Burkhartzmeyer since moving to this community 35 years ago. I brought my kids here, too, leaving with shoes or boots tucked inside boxes tied with cotton string and an added bonus sucker.

 

Boots purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes last year and ready for another Minnesota winter.

 

Burkhartzmeyer owners and employees understand the importance of great customer service—measuring feet, fitting shoes properly and always always treating each consumer with welcoming respect and kindness. Like a friend.

I know these shoe people—second-generation owner Buck; third-generation owners Bruce and Brian; and current and former employees Lanny, Dee, Sharon, Larry and Kaylyn. They greet me by name, ask about my family, form relationships that connect me to them and this place.

 

High school students and filmmakers Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Buck and cousins Bruce and Brian emphasize their warm relationships with customers and more in a recently-released film about the Burkhartzmeyer family legacy produced by area teens Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman. This also remarkable pair craft “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV.” Via research and interviews, they present insights into local businesses, people and places that broaden my appreciation for Faribault.

Samuel and Logan nailed it in their Burkhartzmeyer film, taking the viewer through the progression of the family business starting with original owners Ferdie and Martha Burkhartzmeyer to second-generation owners, brothers Al, Putz and Buck, to current owners, Bruce and Brian. While the longevity impresses, the stories impress even more.

 

I pulled this shoe box from my closet with the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes label attached.

 

A common thread of hard work, adaptability and outstanding customer service—the business also offers shoe repair and pedorthics services—weaves through the storyline. But so does the kindness. Brian, son of the only remaining third-generation owner, honors his father, Buck, with these words: “He has the gift of caregiving…and kindness.” Specifically, Brian references his dad’s visits to care center residents, including family matriarch Martha, who died weeks short of 108 years. Buck still makes these daily visits, now to friends.

My family, too, experienced Burkhartzmeyer kindness, in 2004. At the time, Buck’s Faribault High School class awarded a scholarship to a graduating high school senior. When my eldest daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, Buck felt so bad he asked her to stop by the store for a new pair of athletic shoes. He wanted her to have good shoes when she left for college. Buck was there waiting, fitting my daughter’s feet. I’ll always remember that kind and caring gift to my family.

 

Al Burkhartzmeyer, known locally as “Mr. Downtown” for his welcoming spirit in the community (especially downtown), was instrumental in getting this historic 1915 clock restored on the Security State Bank Building. Following Al’s 2012 death, significant memorial monies were directed toward the restoration in a project undertaken by the local Rotary.  A devoted Rotarian, Al was once honored for 50 years of never missing a Rotary meeting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect many others can share similar stories about the Burkhartzmeyers. They are a generous family, rooted in faith and hard work and a strong sense of community. They have swept floors, stocked shelves, put shoes away, measured feet. Through their care and compassion, they have made Faribault a better place and us, their customers, better people.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a similar long-standing business in your community that offers quality products and outstanding customer service?

FYI: Click here to watch the 1855 film on Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Soleful art in Paradise August 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:24 AM
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"1,001 Uses for Duct Tape" by Harry Skalski

THEY ARE NOT EXACTLY ruby slippers. They are, in fact, quite the opposite of the sparkly, magical heels worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

Yet, angled on a pedestal under the strategically-placed lights of the art gallery, these one-of-a-kind silver flip flops shine with individual style, for they are made of shiny duct tape-wrapped board.

Welcome to “Shoe Stories,” the latest art exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Here nearly 40 pieces of juried art, like “1,001 Uses for Duct Tape” by Harry Skalski of Northfield, fill the gallery. Artists were invited to submit a shoe-themed piece that fit inside a shoebox.

"Shoe Stories" opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The result is a show as magical and alluring as the Emerald City. As I circle the gallery, weaving in and out of displays, I feel as if I am on the yellow brick road, encountering not flying monkeys, but pieces of soleful art that engage and invite me to pause and ponder.

Visitors peruse "Shoe Stories" on the exhibit's opening night.

"Step on a line," a batik with stitching by Faribault artist Tami Oachs, received first place as judged by Minnesota State University-Mankato Professor Emeritus James Tanner.

"This is My Box," an oil on canvas by Cindy L. Brant of Faribault.

Internationally-renowned Faribault woodcarver Marv Kaisersatt's wood caricature, "If the Shoe Fits."

Faribault artist Deb Johnson's batik, "Hey, Baby, Let's Go For a Walk."

Truly, every artist has communicated some message, some idea, on the subject of shoes. Many have shared stories in addition to art.

Krista Kielmeyer Swanson, for example, presents a nostalgic remembrance of shopping at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a long-time family shoe store several blocks away and a co-sponsor of “Shoe Stories” along with Johnson Advisors. Writes Swanson: “To this day I can remember the feeling I would have when you handed me my shoes, tied with string. I felt so proud walking out of the store carrying my new shoes.”

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, "A Family Tradition Since 1949," and located at 128 Central Avenue in Faribault. Purchased shoes are still boxed and tied with string in this old-fashioned traditional shoe store.

As I read the stories, peruse the art, I begin noticing the shoes of other art gallery visitors—strappy leather sandals, shiny Mary Janes, sturdy two-toned practical ties, clogs…

"The Sole of Art," my blog art version of "Shoe Stories," inspired while photographing exhibit visitors' shoes.

And then I look down at my feet and my silver flip flops which, except for the field of flowers growing under my soles, resemble “1,001 Uses for Duct Tape.”

My silver flip flops, purchased at a major retailer.

“SHOE STORIES,” the idea of Faribault artist and PCA Gallery Committee member Arlene Rolf, is showing through September 25 in the Carlander Family Gallery. The art center is open Tuesday through Saturday and is located at 321 Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault art gallery seeks “Shoe Stories” May 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:11 PM
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HEY, ALL YOU MINNESOTA artists. Here’s your opportunity to get your foot in the door, or at least your shoe in the door, of a southeastern Minnesota art gallery.

The Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault is seeking entries for a juried show featuring artwork related to shoes.

That’s right.

Shoes.

Maybe these shoes, belonging to me, my teenage son and my husband, will inspire you.

Entries must include an image or parts/whole of a shoe or shoes. And, get this—your shoe art must fit inside, and be delivered in, a shoebox.

Deadline to get your “Shoe Stories” in to The Paradise is Tuesday, June 8, 2010. Click here for the rules: http://www.paradisecenterforthearts.org/gallery/

Now, if you’re not from Faribault, you’re likely wondering, what’s with the shoes? This isn’t Grand Rapids, hometown of ruby red slipper tapping Judy Garland.

But the Shaft-Pierce Shoe Factory operated here from 1903 – 1934 and our historic downtown is home to a third-generation family-owned shoe store. That would be Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, which, along with JA Johnson Advisors, is sponsoring the shoe art show. Try saying that three times.

I love Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, an old-fashioned shoe store that caters to customers. Here employees measure your feet, find shoes in your size and slip them onto your feet, check the fit and then when they ring up your purchase, they’ll tie the shoebox with string and add a sucker. Yes, exactly as I remember from my youth.

Burkharztmeyer also repairs shoes and addresses special foot needs.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is located on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

As you can tell, I am a bit smitten with this business that speaks to the niceties of yesteryear in today’s fast-paced, self-serve world.

These are my Clarks Shoes, purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. I wear them all the time, as evidenced by their obvious need for a coat of polish.

My 16-year-old, whose feet sweat profusely, was fitted with these breathable shoes at Burkhartzmeyers. He loves them as they keep his feet mostly dry.

Anyway, back to that shoe art show. Entries may be in any artistic medium, but must be prepared for gallery display. Submission by digital images is required. Four prizes will be awarded, including a $100 first place honor. The show runs August 6 – September 25 in the Paradise gallery.

So hop to it, you creative Minnesota types. Box up your magical shoe art and bring, or ship, it to paradise.

Here I am in my kicking-around, well-worn Clarks shoes inherited from my sister Monica, who collects shoes. Maybe these will inspire you.

And last, but certainly not least, my husband's hard-working work shoes. Or, should I say the hard-working husband's work shoes?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes building photo courtesy of Kaylyn Wirz