Baby Boomer Memories: My first shoes from Joseph's
Most of us cannot remember the first time we got and wore shoes. To help commemorate this event, some parents have their kids' first walkers bronzed.
One can find many examples of these in flea markets. Yet, there are companies that are still busy bronzing toddlers' first shoes to this day.
I don't remember my first fitting for shoes, but do recall the store, as my folks had shopped there many times. It was Joseph's Shoes, and the brand was Stride Rite, the country's leading children's shoe brand post-World War II. In fact, this year, the brand is 100 years old, outliving all other American children's shoe brands.
Joseph's Shoes was owned and operated by Joseph "Joe" Posner, a dapper-looking mustached gentleman. In 1914, the Posner family had migrated from Russia to New York City when Joe was only 7. He came to Pittsfield in 1936 with his wife and young daughter, Marlene, to manage the National Shoe Store at 135 North St.
In 1946, with 20 years of experience in shoe sales, Joe opened Joseph's Shoes. The store was located at 22 South St., in the Hotel Wendell Sheraton building in what had previously been the home of Winter's Variety Store. Joseph's specialized in children's and teenagers' shoes.
In August 1958, the store moved to its 170 North St. location, where it remained until 1970. During the 250th anniversary of Pittsfield, I had set up a display of Pittsfield history at the same address. I did not recall that the shoe store was there. Ironically, one of the displays included a small piggy bank with a top hat advertising Joseph's Shoes at that address.
In June 1970, the store moved back to its original location, but now was in the newly built Berkshire Commons building next to the Friendly's ice cream parlor. Joe opened a second store for a short period of time in North Adams during the 1950s and '60s, but felt he was better off serving everyone in one place.
People wanted to be fitted only by Joe in both stores. He was constantly going back and forth between both locations, and it soon became unmanageable. People recall how busy the stores were just before Easter, when shoppers with children would form a line outside and await a turn for purchasing new shoes for the holiday.
Joe Posner was a very generous man. He was known to give shoes to children when they couldn't afford them, and did so until he stopped working.
His younger daughter, Sharon, recalled that when she was once in the store at age 5 or 6, a woman came in with her two children and wanted to put shoes on layaway. Joe knew that the mom had little money. Thus he just wrote off the cost of the shoes and gave them to the family. He did not make a big deal about it, as he was a very humble man.
Young Sharon was moved by her dad's generosity and recalls crying at the time. It was a lesson she carried into her own adult life on helping others.
Joe retired Jan. 2, 1976, after 39 years running the shoe store. He sold the business to Kevin Touhey, a former employee, who had been working for the Stride Rite manufacturer.
Joseph Posner passed away at the age of 73 on Feb. 15, 1980. The shoe store remained in business for a couple more years after his death. However, as North Street commerce declined, like many long-standing, locally owned retail enterprises, Joseph's closed.
It's been ages since I had Stride Rite shoes, which are still made today, but I still have my piggy bank with the top hat from Joseph's.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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