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Sunday, January 31, 2021

60 Years of Memories: If the shoe fits...


Memories of 60 Years In Butler

by James Ring


Staying Shod In Butler


One had choices in obtaining footwear in Butler, as I recall from the latter portion of the 20th Century. It didn’t take a lot to satisfy us working-class folks, just a durable pair of clod-hoppers for work and perhaps a set of oxfords for Sunday. The ladies wore sensible heels and kids had black-and-white sneakers. 


One could obtain suitable shoes at one of the stores on the Square, or take a chance on ordering something from the mail-order houses in Kansas City or Chicago. I always preferred to try them on for fit and comfort, given the chance. Levy Mercantile Co. had an extensive selection, including rubber galoshes, and Martin Levy truly enjoyed selling shoes. Across the Square, Davison’s Shoes on the west side concentrated on footwear, along with some sporting goods like athletic jackets. I don’t recall ever buying shoes at J.C. Penney, but it would have been logical for them to carry such items.


The western wear aficionados would patronize Smith’s Shoe Shop, initially on the south side of the Square and later north of the Square on North Main street. Ennie Smith and sons Cecil and Francis were true cobblers, building up special shoes for orthopedic needs and repairing your favorite cowboy boots and other leather items. Those were the days when shoes were made with provisions to have soles and heels replaced, by sewing and tacking on new ones. Shoes were then made in America, in places like Clinton, Missouri. I still have a pair of G.I.-issue boots that Cecil Smith fixed up with new underpinnings; they fit like old gloves.


Alas, Americans eventually lost their pride and began opting for price over all else, when it came to buying footwear. Korean and Chinese workers could turn out throw-away shoes cheaper than anyone, first the sneakers and then the work boots. The molded-together uppers and soles can’t be repaired, but that’s by design. The Smiths would try to glue on foam cushion half-soles for a while, but it was a losing proposition. Even then, the insoles would develop toe-destroying holes inside that even Dr. Scholls couldn’t fix. Nearly all U.S. shoe manufacturers, like Red Wing Boots in Minnesota and New Balance athletic shoes, assemble some oriental-produced parts to add a “made in in U.S.A.” label. 


We have deteriorated into a buy-and-discard society, losing our resourcefulness and ability to make-do in a pinch. One of my friends in grade school had to fasten pieces of tire tread onto his boots, using hog rings, in order to keep his feet dry. I’ve added cardboard inside otherwise-good shoes to extend their life, not having the $5 to get them resoled. I still use Kiwi shoe wax on my dress shoes so they’ll stay pliable and last longer, although I no longer spit-shine them. 


When the landfill overflows with fallen-apart foreign shoes, maybe we’ll get back to repairing shoes and buying ones that last. Or not…