LIMA — Kenneth Crawford knew what counted when it came to selling shoes — what The Lima News described as “an unwavering attention” to the details. And, for a shoe store, one detail counted more than any other.
“We think that a good shoe store owes the customer experienced fitting of good quality shoes,” Crawford told the News in 1989. “Proper fit is more important in shoes than anything else.”
By 1989, Crawford Shoes had been a good fit at 138 N. Main St. in Lima for 80 years. But even the store’s unwavering attention to detail could not save it from chain stores, malls and changing shopping habits. And so, within 15 years, Crawford’s, which had doggedly remained downtown when most retail stores fled to the malls and which offered shoes for less-than-standard-size feet (once employing an X-ray machine to assure both customer and salesperson a shoe fit properly), closed for good.
Crawford Shoes was opened by an itinerant shoe salesman from Harrison County named Paul W. Crawford, the father of Kenneth Crawford. “The elder Crawford, who had previously worked as a road salesman for a Wheeling, West Virginia, wholesale shoe company enjoyed the shoe business, but disliked time away from his family,” the News wrote in 1989. “Paul Crawford apparently heard through the grapevine that Lima needed a new shoe store.”
So, in December 1909 he opened his store at 138 N. Main St. in what had been the site of Dimond Brothers Grocery. The shoe store, one of a handful at the time in downtown Lima, initially was set up in partnership with Luke Lally, who, like Crawford, had worked as a traveling shoe salesman out of Wheeling.
Crawford and Lally in 1910 became Crawford and Bowdle. “Mr. Carl A. Bowdle, who for the past 10 years has been identified with the shoe trade of Lima, has purchased one half interest in the above-named firm and from henceforth will be found at 138 N. Main St.”
After 1914, however, Bowdle could no longer be found there. Paul Crawford bought out Bowdle in 1914, according to a News story from January 1935, and “the store since that time has been known as Crawford’s.”
“I know he had rough going for a year or two,” said Kenneth Crawford in 1989 of his father’s early years in Lima. “In an effort to save his investment, the elder Crawford tried a new advertising scheme. He moved a shoe display out to the sidewalk in front of the store, starting a Crawford’s tradition that continues to this day,” the News noted. “He always maintained that (that) saved his life and kept things from going broke,” Kenneth Crawford told the newspaper.
The store was doing well enough by 1919 that Paul Crawford decided to expand. “Crawford’s Bootery has made a decided innovation by adding a basement department, which will be used as an outlet for broken sizes and lines of shoes,” the Lima Times-Democrat reported in February 1919. “This department of the well-known shoe store will be a great addition to the business, enabling the store to better handle the trade and at the same time provide a department where prices can be reduced for quick sales of broken sizes and lines that must be removed from the regular stock.”
In March 1924, Crawford’s expanded again. Lima’s Republican-Gazette reported the store was adding a 50-foot addition to the rear of its store. “A new modern front, 21 feet deep with a double door entrance will also be installed,” the Gazette added. “When the remodeling is completed the store will be equipped with entire new and up-to-date fixtures and furniture, Crawford said.”
The interior would be remodeled several more times over the years. In September 1953, the News noted that Crawford’s “has completed the construction of a new ultra-modern store front, making the finish of an extensive interior and exterior remodeling program which has been underway for two years.”
Meanwhile, Kenneth Crawford, who graduated from Ohio State University in 1929 and had been employed at the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, returned to Lima in May 1932, and took over the shoe store from his father. The elder Crawford then opened and managed a Crawford Shoe store in Dayton. Paul W. Crawford died at the age of 79 in September 1958. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
“I came back because I could see what the future was there and it was better here,” the younger Crawford told the News in 1989. Downtown, he recalled, “was the only place to shop before the malls were ever built. Saturday nights the sidewalks were thronged with people that were out for free entertainment. They would come down just to see the other people.”
And possibly to get their feet measured with an X-ray. “It was used for many years until some people became convinced that the machine would damage the foot in some uncertain way,” the News noted in a March 2003 story.
A properly fitted shoe for a hard-to-fit foot was a Crawford’s specialty. In addition to men’s, women’s and children’s shoes, the store “specialized in the hard-to-fit feet — — smaller than average, larger than average, and especially narrow,” the News wrote in 2003. “When a special shoe was needed, Crawford’s was the place to find it. Dyed-to-match shoes for proms and weddings were a major part of the business in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”
Kenneth Crawford resisted moving the store when suburban malls began luring retail away from downtown in the 1960s. “They tried real hard to get me to go in the Lima Mall,” he told the News in 1989. “But for small stores that try to give service, it’s too expensive. I have no regrets,” he added.
After more than six decades managing the store, Kenneth Crawford died in April 1993 at the age of 86. Chase W. Crawford, the son of Kenneth Crawford, then became the third generation of the family to operate the store. He died in July 2004 at the age of 61 and, like his father and grandfather, is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
In March 2005, more than a year after the shoe store closed, some of the details that made it unique were sold at auction. Although the X-ray machine was long gone, the Buster Brown merry-go-round was still there. The merry-go-round was comprised of four small bicycles decked out as ponies (their names were Ginger, Beauty, Flicka and Fury) that circled endlessly on a round, metal track. It offered shoppers a respite from their kids while their kids were rewarded with a giddy touch of vertigo.
“The merry-go-round attracted lots of attention,” the News wrote March 22, 2005. “More than 100 wandered in and out, waiting out sales of boxes of odds and ends for a buck or two before the auction’s highlight.” The merry-go-round eventually sold for $1,025 to an Ottoville grandmother who remembered riding the carousel as a youngster.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.