By John McPhee
As businesses go this one has a lot of soul.
Cartwright’s Shoe Store has been a fixture in downtown Walkerton since 1938 when Lloyd Cartwright started in the business.
But, its history of selling shoes at that location actually dates back to 1877. However, that 135-year record will come to an end in a few weeks when the store closes its doors for good.
Lloyd’s son Bruce, who came into the business in 1965, and took over the store in 1979, said it was time to move on. “I definitely have mixed feelings,” he said in a recent interview. “There are a lot of memories here.”
And, as expected, there is a lot of history too, with popular original items such as an old rocking horse that young children rode from 1930 until about 1970 when the rocker finally gave out.
“People of all ages have come in over the years to tell me they rode that horse,” Bruce said.
There’s also a very old Hush Puppy beagle that sits atop one of the shelves.
Bruce said he was surprised when antique dealers starting popping in asking if the items were for sale.
“I guess word is out,” he laughed. But said he won’t be selling the popular items, noting he will be giving them to family and friends.
Bruce said the store has seen a lot of changes over the years. “At one time there were five full time staff and one repairman working at the store,” he said.
That would be Jack Bross, who started in 1949 and left in 1973 to start his own successful business in Mildmay.
Records show that a shoe store first opened at the same location in 1877 known as J. Flett shoe marker. Sometime during the 1880s the store was sold to J.B. Huether who was also a shoe maker.
Bruce shows off the very thick and heavy safe in his office that still bears the name Huether Brothers, and it’s still used daily.
In 1899 the store was sold to Milton J. Ramsey.
Bruce’s grandfather, Bert Cartwright, arrived from England in 1910 and worked for Ramsey until 1929 when he bought the business. The building was rented from Mr. Ramsey at the start and rent was $35 a month. Some of the old shoes from the early 1900s are on display in the store. They had been in storage since Bert Cartwright’s days in the 1920s.
In looking back, Bruce said one of the things he regrets is not keeping the saddle shoes that were in stock when he took over from his dad.
“I wish I had kept those,” he said, laughing. “I could get a couple of hundred for them today.”
Bruce said he’s sad that the store’s closing means no shoe store in Walkerton, but he’s happy that Joy Source For Sports has agreed to take over Cartwright’s line of work boots and New Balance athletic shoes.
And while during these final weeks, Cartwright’s has been having closing out sales, he plans on holding an off site sale to clear out any leftovers next spring.
Today as things wind down, Bruce and his wife, Bonnie, thank all their friends and customers for the great support in allowing us to service the public over the years. “Walkerton, and especially the rural areas have shown us great support,” Bruce said.
“Of special note, is the excellent staff over the past 20 years. Thanks to Florence Daniel, Betty Kraemer and Donna Hopcraft. They are super in customer service,” he added.
As for the future, Bruce said he has no plans other than to enjoy life. One thing is certain though, Bruce undoubtedly will be walking away in a very comfortable pair of shoes.