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Shoe Retailing 100 Years Later

Shoe Retailing 100 Years Later

November 26, 2012

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While countless footwear trends and retailers have come and gone over the years, a number of 100-year-old shoe stores have remained vibrant. For these iconic retailers — now under third- and fourth-generation ownership — building customer loyalty has been key to their longevity.

According to the retailers, this time-honored approach to business has allowed them to thrive against a wave of competition from discounters and e-tailers, and the numerous ups and downs the footwear market has experienced over the years.

Founded as family stores, these independents have set up shop in small towns and major cities alike. While some have relocated from their original downtown storefronts, others are still welcoming customers at the same address.

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From Gordon Shoes, founded in 1885, to Benge’s Shoe Store, founded in 1911, these veterans agree that the secret to success has been a balance of hard work, dedication and a passion for the shoe business.

Here, Footwear News traces their roots and the challenges they’ve met and conquered along the way.

Excerpt: (for full story, please follow this link:  )

Bob Schwartz of Eneslow in New York, 2012

Bob Schwartz of Eneslow in New York, 2012

Eneslow, New York
Founded: 1909

Owner: Bob Schwartz
Roots: Launched as a surgical-product retailer by brothers Ed and Nat Low, the store debuted a shoe department in 1926. Orthotics from Hersco Arch Products were added in the 1930s. In 1946, Hersco employees and brothers Paul and Charles Schwartz started their own orthotics business, called Apex Foot Health, now Aetrex Worldwide. In 1968, the brothers acquired Eneslow, shifting it from a primarily pedorthic facility to a comfort-shoe store. Today, there are two Manhattan locations, a sister store in Queens, N.Y., and the companion website,

Customer: Predominantly polio patients requiring footwear modifications
Merchandise: Prescriptive footwear and orthotics
Changes: In 1985, Medicaid footwear benefits were reduced, resulting in a revenue loss of nearly 50 percent. “My ability to target doctors and hospitals went away,” said Bob Schwartz. That forced the store to focus on comfort shoes and develop a direct-to-consumer business.

Customer: Thirtysomethings to seniors
Merchandise: Finn Comfort, Aetrex, SAS and Mephisto. “[There's] an emphasis now on fashionable styling that wasn’t available in the past,” said Schwartz.

Paul Schwartz of Eneslow in New York, 1964

Paul Schwartz of Eneslow in New York, 1964

Challenges: The cost of doing business has risen, from labor and rent to insurance.
Looking ahead: The goal is to increase market share with exclusive and limited-distribution products in addition to custom shoes and orthotics. “Health-care professionals are looking for affordable ready-made products to help patients’ foot-related problems,” said Schwartz. “We plan to exploit these opportunities.”
Secret to success: ”Our passion to help people improve the quality of their lives, and relieving their [foot] pain,” said Schwartz.

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