LIMA — Robert W. Schiff built a business empire selling moderately priced shoes — a lot of moderately priced shoes.
When the 85-year-old Schiff died in Columbus in December 1971, the New York Times noted that the Shoe Corporation of America, which grew out of a single store Schiff founded a half century earlier, employed more than 10,000 people in about 1,000 stores and nine manufacturing plants.
By 1961, when Schiff’s opened an outlet in Lima’s Northland Plaza Shopping center, there were four Schiff’s shoe stores in Allen County, three of them in Lima.
Born in 1886 in Russian Lithuania, Schiff received a Talmudic education before coming to the United States in 1905. “He recalled in 1951 that he had planned to resume his studies in Jewish law, but found himself instead as clerk in a shoe store,” the Times wrote. “He tried various businesses in Cincinnati, Dallas and Dayton. As a partner in a shoe store in Marion, he envisioned the possibility of nationwide chain store outlets. Moving to Columbus, he built his organization on a basis of centralized purchasing from manufacturers but individualized operation of the local store.”
Schiff opened his first shoe store in 1920 in Columbus. In the late 1940s, he opened his first store in Lima at 48 Public Square in the Lima House business block. In the early 20th century, the space had been home to the popular Oak Café and billiard rooms. In 1921, Kirby’s shoe store opened at 48 Public Square.
An ad in January 1921 announcing the new store’s proclaimed Kirby’s was “not connected with any other shoe store in Lima” and touted its prime location in the Square. Kirby’s, the ad declared, was the “only new shoe store on the Square,” which at the time was home to several other stores selling shoes.
Meanwhile, the Columbus-based Schiff’s was becoming the third largest shoe store chain in the country. In 1946, its name was changed from the Schiff Shoe Co. to the Shoe Corporation of America. The company operated stores under a variety of names, including Schiff’s Shoes, which sold medium and lower-priced shoes.
In the late 1940s, Schiff’s opened its first Lima store, moving into 48 Public Square and Kirby’s became Schiff’s Kirby shoe store. A second Schiff’s shoe store opened in 1957 at 213 N. Main St., about two blocks north of the first store.
The second store was managed by Bernard Gutmann, who also was a district manager for Schiff’s. Gutmann announced in 1961 that the store would expand into the space next door, formerly occupied by Vickie Frocks.
Nineteen sixty-one also saw Schiff’s presence in Allen County grow to four stores. “Schiff’s (Shoe Corporation of America) will open its new store in Northland Plaza Shopping Center Monday with store hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and from noon to 6 p.m. Sundays,” the Lima Citizen reported Nov. 12, 1961. The Northland store joined the two downtown Lima outlets and a Delphos store.
Robert Schiff stepped down as chairman of SCOA Industries in 1968, three years before his death. SCOA Industries was sold in 1991.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.