Bernard A. Drew: Wall and Streeter, maker of shoes
If their names had been Cramp and Foote, or Pinch and Heel, their product wouldn't have sold. But when James E. Wall (1884-1959) and Edward Streeter put their names together in 1912 to manufacture shoes in North Adams, the Wall-Streeter brand name had an automatic association with New York's well-dressed financial district.
Wall began his career as a clerk in Streeter's Adams shoe store, but after he graduated from high school he went to work for another shoe man, John T. Mulcare, became manager and eventually took over the business in 1906, according to an account by Lorraine Maloney and Deborah Sprague in the June 1999 North Adams Historical Society publication Hoosac Trails. Wall and his brother Jerry, who ran a clothing store, united their businesses and bought that of a competitor, Edwin Barnard. They called their store in the Kimbell Building Wall Brothers. Doing well, James Wall and his old employer, with the financial assistance of Albert Doyle, started making shoes in 1912 as Wall, Streeter & Doyle. Their shop was for a time in the former N.L. and E.R. Millard factory near the Eagle Street Bridge.
Success brought with it difficult decisions. Wall in 1915 was reluctant to sign a major contract to make shoes for the Italian army, as there were "conditions in the contract to which the North Adams firm is not agreeable," according to a newspaper account.
The company had 164 employees by 1920, making 2,000 shoes a day. Five years later, Wall was sole owner of the Wall-Streeter shoe line.
Wall had his lighter moments. He and Adams auto dealer P.H. Powers raced on mules during the annual Hoosac Valley agricultural fair in August 1925, greatly amusing the audience.
The Great Depression took its toll on North Adams shoemakers -- the J.I. Melanson & Sons firm closed its Brown Street factory, for example -- but the Wall-Streeter Co. persevered. For a time in 1932, it looked as though the Blood Shoe Co. of Manchester, N.H., would move operations to North Adams and compete with Wall. But Blood financing fell through.
Wall in January 1936 presided at the first National Shoe Fair held in Chicago. "He declared the shoe industry to be looking forward to business improvement in 1936," according to the Springfield Republican. Indeed, the next year, Wall-Streeter and Gale Shoe Manufacturing of North Adams gave nearly 900 shoe workers a 10 percent raise and Christmas bonuses. Turn-around was secure when, during World War II, the Wall firm turned out 1,000 pair of Army shoes a day.
"Jim Wall's demands on the factory for quality were almost fanatic but were matched by his efforts in the selling field. He turned a blind eye to the expansionist philosophy of competitors during the raging ‘20s, hewing to the line of his original purpose," according to Sumner Kean in The Berkshire Eagle for Jan. 6, 1962. "As a result, in the ruinous ‘30s, when shoe empires tumbled in Lynn, Brockton and Haverhill, Wall-Streeter survived."
Robert E. Wall (1914-1992), having attended Yale University, in 1937 went with his father on a two-month trip through Europe and joined the company the next year and succeeded his father as president in 1959. The senior Wall, a Democrat who served for many years on the Mount Greylock Commission, was vice-president of the National Boot & Shoe Manufacturers Association in 1942 and served as a director of the New England Shoe Asso-
ciation. Wall and his wife, Martha Congdon Wall (1880-1964), lived on Cherry Street.
James Wall received U.S. Patent 175,203 on July 19, 1955, for a new design of shoe with a strap that wrapped over and hid the laces. Robert Wall developed a shoe called the "Bagpiper," made of soft Scottish leather. They were sold in plaid bags. An entire division, Taconic Moc, was created to make and sell moccasin-style sport shoes. In 1963, he introduced shoes made of Corfam, a DuPont simulated leather.
The shoe company in 1962 moved its manufacture of hand-sewn shoes to part of the former Windsor Print Works, leasing 10,000 square feet in one of the two-story buildings. Its main plant was still on Union Street.
Wall-Streeter faced tough competition from overseas manufacturers in the 1970s. A 10 percent surcharge on imports, imposed during President Richard Nixon's tenure, brought some parity to shoe prices -- but it also applied to imported leather, so Wall-Streeter gained little from the measure, according to a Berkshire Eagle news story from Oct. 6, 1971. Two years later, Robert E. Wall reported the business was going to close its production line. Florsheim Shoe Co. of Illinois bought the North Adams plant in 1974, and Wall was retained to start up new operations. Those operations lasted only a year.
The company's history on a Facebook page says Wall told the firm's 150 workers "the decision was made for ‘economic reasons' and that ‘The imports have finally killed us ... we can't compete with 22 cent an hour labor.'"
You can still buy Wall-Streeter shoes. They'll be old ones, though, from the 1940s through 1960s, available on eBay.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.