Owner Glenn Jackson, who opened the store to the public in 1950 with then-business partner Allen Easter, said the key to reaching the diamond anniversary is all about keeping the customer first. Of course, prices that have held steady since 1990 don’t hurt either.
“We’ve treated people right I guess,” said the 87-year-old Jackson, who still climbs high ladders to retrieve shoes for customers. “And we have held our prices, that is another thing. We still have the same price we had 20 years ago on a lot of the staples, some of the stuff that doesn’t go out of stock. We have absorbed it. People say how can we stay in business? And I say, ‘Well, we don’t pay any rent and I don’t get any salary.’ I have been on Social Security for 25 years and with what I get for Social Security, I quit paying myself.”
One of Jackson’s sons, Keith, proved his father’s point with a 40-year-old pair of shoes still in stock for the 1970 price of $4.99. Good luck finding that kind of stock, price and knowledge of shoes at Wal-Mart.
All that pales in comparison to the customer service you’ll get at the Family Shoe Store, located at 521 North Main Street in Hillsville. For folks with foot problems and bunions, the business will custom-fit your shoe to alleviate pressure on the problem point. And there is certainly no shortage of arch supports, diabetic sox, foot care products and insoles.
“We save people a lot of money. They have the foot doctor and orthopedic shoe. The physical therapist bills Medicare $150 and we have it for $69.99,” Jackson said. “It’s the same shoe and everything. I know because a person came in here and still had the bill in the box from Medicare.”
If you need measurements or a pair of shoes stretched, the Family Shoe Store is your place, even if it does come back to bite the business from time to time.
“We do a lot of stretching for people. People buy shoes on the internet and try to get us to stretch them. They come in and have us measure their feet,” Jackson said. “I had one guy I worked with for 30 minutes and then he told me he was going to buy shoes on the internet. I should have charged him for my time. But that is what happens, I guess.”
For three-fifths of a century, the Family Shoe Store has been known for having the largest selection of shoes and accessories to be found anywhere. There you can find a wide range of popular brands, including Rockport, Hushpuppies, Nunn Bush, Red Wing, Carolina, Naturalizer, Soft Spots, Supremes, Nurse Mates, Easy Street, Keds, Daniel Green, Itasca, Nike, Reebok and more. Depending on what you are looking for, you might even found a favorite brand of shoe that is now out of business like Dexter or D. Myers.
“Some of those old companies we have bought from for 50 and 60 years are gone and it is hurting us because people are coming from everywhere wanting to see if we’ve got those old things, and we are just about out of them. People want the old stuff. A fellow from Philadelphia bought 184 pairs. He stayed nearly two days and went through the stock and went through the warehouse down the street, too,” Jackson said. “Then we have these people that come from Japan every so often. They will go through the country and they are looking for old stuff. They’ll buy $2,000 or $3,000 worth.”
Family Shoe Store also carries sizes and widths that you aren’t likely to find elsewhere. With sizes that range from zero to 20, the business has a fit for the seven-day-old or the seven-footer. Narrow widths are hard to find for women’s shoes, one of Family Shoe Store’s specialties.
“We have sizes and widths they can’t find. Ladies, a lot of them come from Winston-Salem and Mount Airy because they can’t find narrow widths. It’s real hard for us to find them but we get all the narrows we can for women and they come over here to buy them,” Jackson said. “And of course they buy other things when they come and their husbands come. We have been selling more billfolds and belts that anything. We can’t hardly keep them.”
Ironically, Jackson said most of the store’s business comes from out of state these days. Most come from North Carolina, while many are from West Virginia. A regular string of Ohio and Michigan customers have dried up thanks to the 74 bypass in Mount Airy, Jackson said.
“Most of (the business) comes from North Carolina. We don’t get much local trade anymore. They go to Wal-Mart, I guess,” Jackson said. “But if it wasn’t for North Carolina people we would have been out of business a long time ago.”
He believes better prices and a sales tax rate that is 3 percent lower than North Carolina probably contributes to that.
“And they like to have an excuse to come over the mountains. But we get a lot of people from North Carolina,” Jackson said. “Then we get West Virginia people passing through. If we could just get the local business we’d be fine.”
Many of the store’s customers are Carroll County natives that have moved to Northern Virginia or elsewhere. Jackson said many of them will stop in to buy shoes and go eat next door at the Hillsville Diner while they are in town. Of course, there are still a handful of customers that have been coming through the door since Family Shoe Store opened in 1950.
“We have two or three, some of them are close to 100 years old. In fact, we have customers that are over 100. Most of them are gone,” Jackson said. “That is the problem, most of the customers are in the cemeteries and the nursing homes and most of the young generation won’t go into an old town like this, let alone an old store. A teenager wouldn’t be caught in here. Their parents and grandparents will bring them in and as soon as they get in the door, they turn up their nose and say. ‘Let’s go to the mall.’ I can understand that. That is the way it is everywhere.”
The layout of the store has remained the same, Jackson said. He did try to relocate the cash register once near the front of his store, but his wife Avenelle didn’t like it, so it was quickly moved back.
“I’ve been wanting to remodel for years, but a lot of people say don’t do it,” Jackson said. “A lot of people come in here and are amazed. They say, ‘I haven’t seen an old store like this for 40 years.’”
Glenn and Avenelle Jackson operate the Family Shoe Store with their sons Keith and Jerry. Family Shoe Store is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The business also offers a complete line of polish, dyes, dressings, laces, etc., as well as handbags, wallets, billfolds, belts, and suspenders.
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The Family Shoe Story
Opened 60 years ago, Family Shoe Store was the first full-service shoe store to serve Hillsville and Carroll County. Founded and operated by Allen Easter and Glenn Jackson, both veterans of World War II, the Family Shoe Store was successful from the start.
Shortly after returning from the war, Easter and Jackson found employment in Hillsville — Jackson as Deputy Commissioner of the Revenue, and Easter as a printer for The Carroll News. They became friends and ate lunch together at the Hillsville Diner, wondering if they could start a business together. Since everyone wears shoes and with no shoe store in the area, they thought that might be the way to go. Besides, Jackson had always had trouble finding shoes to fit properly and he assumed that others had the same problem. Most general stores carried a few shoes, mostly work styles with limited selection and with only one width.
The partners rented the old theatre building and secured a bank loan of $5,000, a lot of money in that day. Then they proceeded to Craddock-Terry Shoe Manufacturing Co. in Lynchburg to stock their new store. Conner Cox, a native of Meadows of Dan, had managed a Tom McCan store in Norfolk until he retired and returned to his old home place. He helped to get the store set up for opening day, which drew a large crowd from across the country. That was when Hillsville was THE shopping center for Carroll County.
They gave tickets for free ice cream from a stand down the street. After the first month, the partners realized they needed more stock to meet the demand, so they borrowed another $5,000. Before long that was gone.
They got behind with payments to the shoe factory and they refused to release their order for spring and Easter shoes, which would have put them out of business quick. Jackson went down to the credit department at the factory. The credit manager was like a bull dog, Jackson said, and scared most people away. But Jackson was desperate. He made friends with the man and he agreed to release the shipment on condition that he receive a payment each week of whatever they could afford, even if it was only $50. Jackson promised him that. In addition, he agreed to an open line of credit for whatever might be needed for the store to survive. That kept the store in business.
The old theatre building had a coal furnace that smoked so bad the store had to close some days in the winter. So when Dr. Glen Cox built his maternity hospital, the store moved up the street to the ground floor where it is today. The upper floor hospital is now occupied by Hillsville Family Practice, Dr. Preston Edwards and staff.
Many changes have occurred over the years. The store used to make a large percentage of sales on open charge account — now it’s credit cards. Shopping patterns have changed, too. A majority of customers are from out of the immediate area — mostly from North Carolina. The store gets calls from the prison system in Richmond when it needs work boots in sizes 16-18 in wide 4E widths that they can’t find elsewhere.
After Easter was called to serve as a Baptist minister, he sold his interest to Jackson, who, with the help of his family, still operates the store full time. Jackson said the late Gilmer Horton was associated with the business for more than 47 years, and the late Mary Primm and Lanore Chitwood served for many years until they retired.
The Family Shoe Store had the honor of being named Retail Merchant of the Year in 1971 by the Virginia Retail Merchants’ Association. Cited for outstanding public service, the store’s primary objective was offering what people in the area wanted at prices they wanted to pay. This policy of customer service is still carried out at The Family Shoe Store.